The Brown Swiss
Origins of the Brown Swiss
The Brown Swiss is probably the oldest of all dairy breeds, with bone remnants found in the Alpine regions of Europe, dating back to 4000BC. Records of the Benedictine monks of the Einsiedeln Monastery, breeding these familiar brown cows date back more than 1000 years. Traditionally the breed was limited to the Alpine regions of central Europe, with the largest numbers found in Switzerland. With the development of modern transport this unique breed became more well-known. Over the last 150 years the breed has been established in more than 60 countries.
Today it is internationally the second largest of all dairy breeds, with more than 8 million registered and more than 14 million animals in total. The first animals where imported into South Africa from the U.S.A. in 1907 by Louis van Wyk and later he imported some more from Switzerland. Since then the breed has developed and established itself as one of the four largest dairy breeds in South Africa. The Brown Swiss, as with the most early European breeds, originated as a dual purpose breed, producing meat and high quality milk for their owners. The milk was used for drinking purposes and the production of cheese, which formed and still forms a large part of their owners diet. With the advent of commercial farming practices the need for more milk production resulted in the development of a more dairy animal.
This has been achieved by selection for the more functional dairy characteristics. Today we find in most parts of the world that two breeds have developed from the original Brown Swiss: Firstly the more dairy breed with drier bone structure, less muscling and better udder qualities known as Brown Swiss or Dairy Swiss. Secondarily the more muscled, heavier boned beef breed commonly referred to as Braunvieh. In Switzerland and Europe they still have a smaller dual-purpose population referred to as “original Braunvieh” The international tendency has been more towards the dairy breed. In South Africa with its diverse climate and vegetation there are areas which are predominantly more inclined towards beef production, here the South African Braunvieh has developed primarily into a beef breed.
It was therefore decided in 1974 to create two separate herd books for the two different types. The dairy type was then named the Dairy Brown Swiss. In 1995 the Department of Agriculture, recognised the SA Dairy Swiss as a separate breed in terms of the Livestock Improvement Act.
SA Dairy Characteristics
Some of the SA Dairy Swiss’s most important characteristics are its longevity, milk protein quality, temperament, adaptability to different climatic conditions, strong hooves and legs, good fertility & easy calving. The Dairy Swiss is a docile, well balanced medium to large framed, long bodied animal with very correct feet and legs, which enables it to fit in any dairy management system. Good body depth, broad chest and ample spring of rib give the capacity that enables the cow to digest adequate quantities of roughage. Mature lactating cows weigh between 600 and 800 kg and mature bulls between 1 000 and 1 300 kg.
SA Dairy Swiss cows have well balanced, strongly attached udders, positioned high between the legs, which enable them to produce large quantities of high quality milk. The coat is various shades of grey-brown, ranging from mushroom to very dark brown. The border of the muzzle and the ears are characteristically white. The poll, the back line and the area around the udder, as well as the udders themselves, are often lighter in colour. A darker, smokier shade is often seen around the shoulders and neck in comparison to the rest of the body. The skin is pigmented, the muzzle is a grayish black and the hooves are dark and very hard. S.A. Dairy Swiss cows produce between 6 000 – 12 000kg of milk in a standard 305day lactation, depending on lactation number, milking’s/day, and feeding/management system. Internationally lactation in excess of 20 000kg have been recorded.
The largest advantage of Dairy Swiss milk is the nutritional content, Protein quality and protein: butterfat: lactose ratio. Dairy Swiss milk has a butterfat content of 4.0-4.4% and a protein content of 3.3-3.6%. With an optimum Protein: Butterfat ratio the Dairy Swiss produces the ideal milk for cheese production. This combined with the fact that 75% of the Dairy Swiss population have the AB & BB Kappa Casein genes, results in 15-20% higher cheese yields from Dairy Swiss milk. The high lactose content combined with the butterfat and proteins makes Dairy Swiss milk very nutritious and gives the unique rich smooth wholesome taste, distinguishing it from other milk. The reason why Swiss cheese and chocolate is the best in the world! The Dairy Swiss’s higher lifetime protein production results in higher profitability.
Longevity & Other Factors
Lifetime productions in excess of 100 000kg milk and 3 400kg protein are not uncommon for Dairy Swiss cows. The Swiss cow “Morchel” holds the world record for lifetime production; she has completed her 14th lactation at 21years of age, having produced more than 191 000kg of milk in her lifetime and being embryo flushed several times. Dairy Swiss are roughage utilizers “par excellance”, resulting in healthier rumen activity and reduced metabolic disturbances. Due to the fact that they have a 1,5kg DM/day higher feed intake than other dairy breeds during the first 100 days of lactation, their body condition is better maintained and is less prone to metabolic dysfunctions. Also the larger bone mass allows for larger calcium & phosphate depots, reducing the risk of milk fever.
The Dairy Swiss cow’s higher dry matter intake enables her to maintain a better body condition. A major result of this is a shorter calving to first service period, and higher conception rate. Adequate calcium reserves allows for more effective uterine involution and healthier uterine tissue. Her light neutral colour gives a definitive advantage in heat stress situations, with less production loss and 25% better 1st service conception rate under these conditions.
Her greater heat tolerance is an important finding, as heat stress is a key factor in both South Africa and the rest of Africa. Due to all the Dairy Swiss cows’ inherently good functional qualities: she is able to produce good quality milk profitably, while simultaneously producing viable progeny, ensuring herd growth. These are the undisputed advantages of Dairy Swiss longevity.
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