About The Breed
The native home of the Brown Swiss breed of cattle is
Switzerland, a very rough and mountainous country with a total area of about 15,940 square miles. However, about 25 percent
of the area is covered with rocks, lakes, rivers, snow-capped mountains, and glaciers, and there are only about eight million
acres of productive land of which one half is used for hay and pasture.
Brown Swiss is the breed of dairy cattle that produces
the second largest quantity of milk per annum, over 9000kg. The milk contains on average 4% butterfat and 3.5% protein,
making their milk excellent for production of cheese. The Brown Swiss is known for a long gestation period, immense
size, large furry ears, and an extremely docile (though some would say lethargic or stubborn) temperament. Regardless,
the Brown Swiss is quite a resilient breed of cattle; they are hardy and capable of subsisting with little care or feed.
The Brown Swiss originated on the slopes of the Alps in Switzerland; because they were bred in this harsh climate, they are
resistant to the heat, cold and many other common cattle problems.
The conventional breed known as Brown Swiss is actually
quite different from the original Schwyzer Braunvieh cattle cultivated in northern Italy and southern Germany around the end
of the 17th and 18th centuries. When imported to America in the early 1800s many dairymen complained that the Brown Swiss
appeared to be nothing more than another variety of Jersey cattle, and the strain was subsequently bred for size to differentiate
them more clearly. While not an uncommon breed to find as the basis of a pure-blooded herd, the Swiss is also commonly
encountered as a pet or token example on larger farms comprised mostly of Holstein or Jersey cattle.
Origin of the Breed -- The Foundation
Brown Swiss cattle first became prominent among dairy
breeds about a 100 years ago. The exact date when this fashion arose is not certain, but it was at some time in the first
half of the 19th century.
The Brown Swiss breed in the United States was declared
a dairy breed in 1906, and in 1907 a classification for Brown Swiss was provided at the National Dairy Show. Many writers
have suggested that the breed is centuries old and that little crossing with other breeds has been done for hundreds of years.
As is the case in the origin of the other breeds of livestock, this conclusion seems to be more romantic than correct.
The Brown Swiss, as we know it in the United States today,
originated in the cantons (similar to our states in U.S.) of Schwyz, Zug, St. Gallen, Glarus, Lucerne, and Zurich of
Switzerland. The canton of Schwyz was the scene of most of the early improvement, and in Switzerland the breed is often referred
to as Schwyer or Brown Schwyzer. All the cantons in which the breeds originated are inhabited by German speaking people,
and apparently large cattle were brought in from Germany to improve the cattle of Switzerland, which until about 1860 were
often quite lacking in size. The brown cow is known as Braunvieh in German speaking countries; Bruna Alpina in Italy, Brunedes
Alpes in France, and Pardo Suizo in Spain and Latin America including Brazil.
The Pinzgaur breed, which is apparently a native of Austria,
seems to have been the breed from that country that was used in the improvement of the Brown Swiss. The predominant cattle
of Schwyz in about 1860 were of a chestnut to a dull black color, and most of the cattle were darker on their fore- and hindquarters
than of their bodies. Many of them carried a light-colored or light grayish stripe down their backs. This variation of color
pattern was apparently introduced from the Pinzgau, and the Brown Swiss of the modern day seem to have acquired the light
dorsal stripe from these cattle brought in from Austria. Since no records of the breed were maintained for a good many decades
after the formation of the breed, it is altogether possible that other cattle could have been used in the improvement. Direct
evidence of such crosses is lacking.
Breed Activity in Switzerland
There has been very little promotion of the Brown Swiss
breed in its native country although it has been exported to Russia, Italy, Germany, the United States, and many other countries
where it has gained a very favorable reputation. Herd Books for the Brown Swiss did not appear in its native land until 1911,
although such a Herd Book has appeared 20 years earlier in the United States. Such breed promotional activities as are carried
on the Switzerland are largely under the auspices of a government subsidized association that sponsors shows and sales of
purebred livestock. A Brown Swiss Cattle Breeders Association, which was organized in Switzerland, has been active in promoting
shows and in the production testing and classification of the breed.
Introduction of the Brown Swiss to
the United States
The first Brown Swiss cattle were brought to the United
States in 1869 by Henry M. Clark of Belmont, Massachusetts, who visited the canton of Schwyz and secured a bull and seven
females from Col. G. Burgi of Arth, Switzerland. When the Brown Swiss Cattle Breeders Association was organized, the bull
was registered as William Tell, and the females were registered as Zurich, Lucerne, Gretchen, Brinlie, Lissa, Christine, and
Geneva. These cattle were subsequently sold to D. Hall, Providence, Rhode Island, and D.G. Aldrich, Worcester, Massachusetts.
In 1882, Scott and Harris, Wethersfield, Connecticut, imported 19 cows, and in 1889, George W. Harris of the firm established
a purebred herd later operated by his sons, George M. and Rodney W., of Wethersfield, Connecticut. Five other importations
within the 10 year period following 1882 included those of L.J. McCormick, Chicago, Illinois; William Koch, New York, New
York; J.C. Eldridge, Middle Falls, New York; E.M. Barton, Hinsdale, Illinois; and McLaury Brothers of New York.
A notable importation of the breed was that in 1906 by
E.M. Barton who brought 34 cows and five bulls to this country. One of these was the bull Junker 2365, dropped in 1904, which
became Grand Champion at the National Dairy Shows in 1907, 1908, and 1909. He sired daughters that made excellent production
records and had a very important influence in the breed. In 1906, importations were stopped because of foot-and-mouth
disease, and only three cattle have been brought from Switzerland since that date. There has been a total of only 155
head of Brown Swiss brought form Switzerland and recorded in the Herd Book in this country. A very steady growth of
the breed from this very meager beginning has been most gratifying to those sponsoring the development and improvement of
the Brown Swiss.
1) E. Parmalee Prentice, American Dairy Cattle, Harper
& Row, Publishers, Inc., New York, 1942.
2) Dorsa M. Yoder and Jay L. Lush, "The Genetic History of the Brown Swiss
Cattle in the United States," Journal of Heredity, 28(4), 154-160, 1937.
3) Reference: Briggs, H.M. & D.M. Briggs. Modern
Breeds of Livestock. Fourth Edition. Macmillan Publishing Co. 1980 (reprinted with permission from Dr. Briggs).