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Performance tested for 850 years.

That's right, performance testing is nothing new. In the Braunvieh breed this practice has taken place for the last 850 years. Documentation exists that since 1150 AD the Muri Monastery has been keeping records on Braunvieh cattle performance. These records are not just something that had been compiled by the farmers but rather an organized, meticulous system of recording performance of the breed by dedicated monks.

The beginning of a Dual Purpose Animal

In Switzerland, milk and beef production was important. Because only a few people could afford a horse, cows, bulls and steers were used as draft animals. For this reason breeders chose good conformation, good feet and legs as well as good muscles. No muscle = no power, no meat = no use! Fertility, a long life and performance is what counted. In the past the people only had a few acres and a large family to support. Feed efficiency was very important. The ability to have as many animals on one's land as possible was the goal. It was better to have 10 or 11 mid sized cows rather than 9 very large ones. This enabled them to get up to 5000 liters (about 1320 US gallons) more milk as well as an additional calf that they could sell each year. Swiss are though to be greedy but rather they are economically minded. This is the background one needs to keep in mind when thinking about the history of the Braunvieh. Many of the modern breeds finally figured out that one should select according to performance, Braunvieh have been doing this for more then 850 years. It is not without reason that Switzerland has very good Cheese but before one can have cheese one needs cows which can produce good milk. One does not produce a good end product without a good primary product. Out of necessity the Swiss had to produce an animal which could deliver such a high quality product. Milk solids is what is needed for cheese production. Braunvieh were therefore also bred for the ability to have a high milk solids content in their milk. Even today one has a breed that is still the leader in this production of milk solids. Braunvieh became a breed that has both milk production and beef.

Breed Characteristics begin to take shape

The Swiss wanted to produce meat economically and to do so they needed an animal that would show this on the body. So they looked for a quick growing, early maturing, well balanced, deep and long bodied animal with good developed muscles. It was thought that type conformation and weight went together. This goal has been in mind for the last 100 years. Even from the start there has been an ideal animal form that was in mind. The ideal type was given 100 points. An animal (either male or female) that received less then 80 points was not allowed to be furthered in the breed. They were not allowed to be multiplied and hence the breed was improved. (It is unfortunate that today some so called "breeders" are multiplying unproved heifers and inferior animals only for the sake of money. This is sure to have a negative effect on the continuing betterment of the breed.) It was not the breeder's choice but it was done by 2 judges who stated if an animal was able to be used or not. Due to this the breed is very consistent and evenly conformed, not having the extremes that other breeds are plagued with. It might be interesting for you to hear that in the Braunvieh breed the head was given the most emphasis. At one point it was thought that the head was the expression of the whole animal, the style, one could see depicted on the head the characteristics of the animal.

It is not easy to produce a dual purpose animal, for milk and beef. Thus most other breeds have decided to try to produce one or the other, selecting for milk or beef. Only in the last 20 years has one noticed that the combined breeds were the way to go, thus the Exotic boom that has swept North America. Not every breed, even if it comes from far away, works to improve the domestic breed. It has been shown that the breed that is developed in a decade by mixing breeds does not have the same effect in genetic power or hi-bred vigor as those which were bred over many centuries with the dual goal of producing both milk and beef.

The adaptability of Braunvieh

All across the world, needs and environments vary widely and a breed needs to be adaptable. It has been shown that many of the pure beef breeds under severe conditions can not produce enough milk to raise a decent calf. The Braunvieh has the advantage that it is mid sized thereby earlier maturing, needing less feed to maintain the animal, and through this even under a shortage of feed the animal can be bred successfully.

Feed Efficiency

One can see that the selection for feed efficiency over the last few hundred years is now paying off for the modern breeder. This can be seen in the tests that were done in 1932-34, it was shown even then that with a large volume of roughage it was still possible to feed out a young animal (1.5 year old when killed) with only 7.5 months of intensive feed. There was a 7-10 to 1 ratio of feed to gain. Braunvieh can have a normal yield of 56% without being overly fat.


In the olden days the animals were chosen for their use as draft animals, this now shows itself in that Braunvieh's willingness to walk and find feed. They aggressively search for feed. Fertility and longevity have always been focal points of the breed as well. One would rather have a cow in the barn which could be milked than a heifer which had to be raised. Again this is showing itself that in spite of high production the cows continue to live a long time. High production has no adverse affect on the age of the animal. It is no big deal to find animals that are 15-20 years of age. Proof for this can be seen in Canada and Mexico. This hardiness also shows itself in that the breed is very adaptable to the extremes in temperatures. A reason that the breed is so widespread on the Earth.

Concluding remarks

Even if circumstances are a little different then faced by the animals 850 years ago, the goals that were laid out for the breed then are still proving to having been very wise choices. In Switzerland one expects that the cow will produce 10 times her weight in milk per year. This is the same as if we in North America expect half of the weight of the cow on the calf after 205 days, without creep feeding. For instance if a 1200 lb. cow raises a 600 lb. calf one can say the cow is a good performer. If the calf after being removed from the cow continues to gain 3 lb. per day without excessive feeding then this is also considered good performance. The animal is then ready for market within 13-14 months. Because of their black pigmentation, the advantage is that the Braunvieh animal have no pink eye and no problem with their feet. Braunvieh are not just nice to look at but are animals that have been bred for performance. Therefore Braunvieh is the breed that makes sense today!

Here are some old performance data

In 1939, my father, Hans Ulrich had the first Original Braunvieh cow in history to produce over 10,000kg. of milk in one lactation, Kroni. She was the Supreme National Grand Champion Braunvieh cow in Switzerland in that year. Some years earlier a test was conducted by the Agricultural School in Liebenfeld-Bern, recorded by J. Landis, entitled "Mastversuche mit Rindern und Ochsen unter besondereer Berucksichtigung der Jungviehmast 2. Mitteilung". The test results are recorded in the book, Landwirtschaftliches Jahrbuch der Schweiz, (Bern), 1936. The English translation of the title is "Beef test for heifers and steers with special regard to young animal feeding, second bulletin". Here are the results. Quite interesting when compared to today's standards.

Feeding Young Braunvieh for Slaughter 1932-34.

Type of Feed Liters US Gallons 
Whole Milk 443 117 
Skim Milk 54 14 
Butter Milk 3572 944 
  Kilograms Pounds 
Hay 1178 2592 
Greenfeed 1009 2220 
Corn Silage 1053 2317 
Potatoes 580 1276 
Oat 277 609 
Barley 153 337 
Sesame Seed 23 51 
Mineral Salt 21 46 
Total 4294 9448 
Total Protein  333.24 733.13
Total Carbohydrates 1614.55  3552.01

Table 1. Volume of Feed Consumed by each animal in the 491 Day Test.

Ave Weight At Start Of Test  62.4kg  137.28lb
Ave Weight At End Of Test  478.0kg  1051.6lb 
Ave Total Weight Gained 415.6kg  914.32lb
Ave Daily Gain in Test 0.85kg  1.87lb

Table 2. Feeding test results

Animal Age (months) Live weight (kg) Live weight (lb) Dead weight (kg) Dead weight (lb) Yield (%)
Yearling 14 408  898  214  471  52.2
Heifer  17  474  1043  269  592  56.7
Heifer  17  427  939  243  535  56.9
Steer  17  435  957  244  537  56.1
Steer  20  554  1219  292  642  52.7

Table 3. Slaughter results

Feeding Older Braunvieh Steers For Slaughter 1932-34.

Feed Kg. Lb. 
Skim Milk  400  880 
Hay  1032  2270 
Corn Silage  1300  2860 
Potatoes  1053  2317 
Barley  160  352 
Oats  160  352 
Other  97  213 
Total (Excl. Milk) 3802  8364

Table 5. Feed Consumed by each Steer in 209 Days.

Weight - start of Test 312 kg.  686 lb.
Weight - end of Test  517 kg.  1137 lb.
Weight Gained  205 kg.  451 lb.
Daily Gain in Test  0.98 kg.  2.16 lb

Table 6. Steer feeding test results

Animal No. Age (months) Live weight (kg) Live weight (lb) Dead weight (kg) Dead weight (lb) Yield (%)
#1  29  535  1177  304  669  56.8 
#2  29  504  1109  387  851  56.9
#3  29  496  1091  279  614  56.3
#4  29  493  1085  267  587  54.2
#5  29  491  1080  277  609  56.4
#6  29  490  1078  275  605  56.1
Ave. 29  501  1102  281  618  56.1

Table 7. Steer slaughter test results

Some information taken from: W. Engeler, "Das Schweizerische Braunvieh" (Frauenfeld, Switzerland: Verlag Huber & Co.) 1947, p. 136.

1997-2000 Braunvieh International All rights reserved  Last Updated: 18-Nov-2001