by: Stephen B. Blezinger
Ph.D., PAS

The beef industry touches virtually every part of the globe. Worldwide there are over 250 recognized breeds of cattle of which approximately 70 are found in the United States. The crossbreeding combinations are infinite. Because of this, the types and kinds of breeds and combination of cattle are almost limitless and also create substantial variation in production and performance characteristics. In the United States, the beef business has become a highly managed and scientific industry. While there are still many breeds in existence in the U.S., each has its own positive and negative features. Some are mainstays of the industry and some are produced more for their uniqueness and the interest they create for certain producers.

Every breed has something to offer in terms of genetics, handling, performance, tolerance of environmental conditions – i.e. meeting specific needs. From the big picture standpoint beef cattle are produced to meet the meat protein needs of the U.S. and world populations (a growing demand). As such, certain breeds fit this mold better than others do. In some cases it is simply because there are more producers and more cattle. In other cases it is because some groups have done an exceedingly good job at promotion of the breed both within the industry and to the consumer as a whole.

The scope of this article will take a different tack than most I write here. Generally you will see nutrition or management related topics, perhaps environmental, policy or other subjects covered. In this article I wanted to explore with you the breed of cattle that this issue is highlighting. This should not be constituted as a particular endorsement but serves to examine a variety of attributes provided by this specific breed.

With the exception of the American Bison, there are no breeds of cattle truly native to the United States with the exception of breeds such as Brangus, Beefmaster or Santa Gertrudis. While recognized now as pure breeds, these, as well as a number of others, are actually crosses of breeds that were brought to the US at some point in time. For instance, records show that the first Angus cattle were brought here in 1873. Brahman cattle were first imported as early as 1849. Simmental arrived around 1967. The breed spotlighted in this issue is Braunvieh. The first groups of Braunvieh cattle were brought here from Switzerland around 1880. About 130 head were brought at first. These cattle, however, were actually used to develop the American Brown Swiss breed here in the U.S. At this point in time, Braunvieh cattle were more of a combination breed, used to produce both milk and meat. Canada imported the first modern Braunvieh in 1968.

If we go back farther than the 1800-1900's we find a few additional interesting facts. Earlier I mentioned that Braunvieh is not a crossbreed or a new composite made up of three or more breeds. On the contrary, Braunvieh may be one of the oldest pure breeds on earth, with records dating back to 800 B.C. In recent years, archeologists have found cattle bones among the ruins of the ancient Swiss Lake Dwellers similar to those of the present day Braunvieh.

As mentioned, this docile breed is associated with the scenic Swiss Alps. Development of the breed came into its own in the 18th century in the mountain valleys of Switzerland and production records on milk and meat performance were established in the 19th century. Today, roughly 40 percent of the cattle in Switzerland are Braunvieh (second only to Simmental) and they have spread throughout the world. Due to their high performance and adaptability, Braunvieh are used in all major countries of the world. Braunvieh are found in over 60 countries extending from the Arctic Circle to the tropics at altitudes varying between 0 and 12,500 feet. World population of Braunvieh is believed to be over 7,000,000 head. Herdbooks are being kept by breeders' associations in 42 countries.

As with other breeds, Braunvieh has the potential of making a variety of positive contributions to the industry. While it has been in the United States for quite some time the Braunvieh breed is not well known. In fact, many breeders will tell you that one of the most common questions they get when they comment about their breed is “Braunvieh, what kind of a cross breed is that?” Many of the uninitiated believe it to be a cross between a Brahman and a European breed such as Gelbvieh or Fleckvieh (Simmental). Hopefully the next few paragraphs will answer these questions plus shed some light on the value this breed can potentially bring to the beef industry.

Definition of Value

The beef industry defines value in a number of different ways. A truly useful animal or breed provides a combination of these attributes. Starting with the cow/calf phase the industry is looking for a cow that can produce a calf within a yearly breeding schedule, i.e. she delivers a calf once per year on a regular basis. She needs to do this economically meaning that she efficiently converts nutrients obtained largely from forage with a minimal amount of supplementation. She provides for her calf effectively providing appropriate amounts of milk that will grow the calf to its genetic potential and that it will be weaned at an efficient age and weight relative to the cow's size. The cow needs to be healthy, having an inherently strong immune system. She needs to be tolerant of weather conditions including cold, heat, rain, etc. Not a small task that we're asking of this animal. The calf needs to be born strong and vigorous (often related to the cow's nutrition). It needs to grow rapidly and efficiently. Bull calves should soon exhibit the thickness and growthiness expected, heifers should show good structure and musculature while exhibiting the appropriate degree of femininity. Once weaned, bulls and heifers should continue to grow and develop rapidly, heifers should begin cycling by about 14-15 months so that she will breed and produce her first calve at around 24 months of age. Bulls should grow rapidly and efficiently, especially on forage so that by an age of 18 months they can begin breeding activities at least on a limited scale. They should show the libido and fertility necessary so that by two to three years of age they can effectively service a normal number of cows in a breeding season. In the cases of both males and females, longevity is a valuable trait. Both bulls and cows should be able to remain productive in the herd as long as possible. Remember the key word is productive. For cattle destined to the feedyard and the food supply, they need to grow and gain efficiently and produce a carcass that fits today's meat trade specifications at the upper end of the scale where the greatest value is and the most revenue is generated for the producer.

Again, this is a substantial list of requirements for any breed to live up to. Interestingly, Braunvieh cattle do an admirable job on all of these. But let's focus on just a couple of these, starting with efficiency. Production efficiency for a cow-calf enterprise can be defined in terms of the success of conversion of food energy resources to calf weight at weaning. Since variation in biological efficiency exists among breeds and breed crosses this subsequently affects the genetic potential for production and related efficiency. Comparison of lactation response at similar energy intakes provides a useful indicator of breed or breed combination production efficiency (Jenkins and Ferrell, 1992).

This study was conducted comparing milk production at peak lactation, time of peak lactation and total milk production over 210 days (typical lactation period) from 1987 to 1990. Nine breeds (Angus, Braunvieh, Charolais, Gelbvieh, Hereford, Limousin, Red Poll, Pinzgauer and Simmental, were represented with 16 cows from each breed included in the study. All cows were in their second lactation or greater and ranged from five to eight years of age except for Pinzgauer which were four to five years of age. Braunvieh production peak occurred at 10.3 +/- .4 weeks. This was similar to Angus and Red Poll but later than all other breeds except Pinzgauer. Range was 8.8 +/- .4 weeks to 11.1 +/-.3 weeks. Of all the cattle in the study Braunvieh had the highest peak milk yield at 26.18 +/- .66 lbs per head per day. This was similar to Gelbvieh, Pinzgauer and Simmental but significantly higher than all other breeds in the study. Peak production ranged from that shown for Braunvieh down to 18.7 +/- .66 lbs for Hereford. Finally, Braunvieh also had the overall highest total production for the 210 day period with 3966.6 lbs +/- 132 lbs. This was 233.2 lbs higher than the next closest breed which was Gelbvieh who had similar production. Braunvieh was exhibited significantly higher total milk production compared to all other breeds in the study.

This milk production level is also reflected in data provided in the most recent version of the Beef NRC (last updated 2000). As our understanding of nutrient requirements has evolved we now know we have to adjust our estimates of an animal's nutrient needs, especially energy based on a variety of traits such as growth rate, frame size, milk yield, etc. The study above showed that Braunvieh have the capacity for exceptional milk production for a beef animal. The NRC reflects this as well. The Beef NRC illustrates that we do, in fact, need to adjust for a higher energy requirement by Braunvieh cattle (20 percent higher when compared to a variety of other common breeds such as Angus, Brahman, Charolais, Hereford, Limousin and Shorthorn). However, Braunvieh has a higher relative capacity for peak milk production. Based on NRC adjustment values this higher peak milk yield may be 33 to 70 percent greater than breeds such as those shown.

Braunvieh feedlot and carcass performance has also been impressive. In a variety of gain, feed efficiency and carcass competitions, Braunvieh or Braunvieh sired calves won or were in the top 5 or 10 of animals competing in various categories for years running. A recent example was at the Great Western Beef Expo where Braunvieh sired calves won the feed efficiency category with a 6.90 lbs of feed per lb. of gain.


These are only a few examples of exceptional value shown by this breed of cattle. Again, this is not an endorsement of this particular breed but a snapshot of what a specific breed of cattle can contribute to the genetic base of any herd. As a producer moves forward with his program it is important that he carefully research the options and opportunities to improve his herd and subsequent performance.

Dr. Stephen B. Blezinger is a nutrition and management consultant with an office in Sulphur Springs, TX. He can be reached by phone at (903) 352-3475 or email at

A Timeline of Braunvieh in North America

• 1869-1890 -- Approximately 130 head of Braunvieh were imported into the United States from Switzerland. This was the basis for the development of the American Brown Swiss that was declared a dairy breed in 1890.

• Mid 1900's -- Original Braunviehs were imported by Mexico where they have flourished as a beef breed. In Mexico, they are used in a commercial capacity to upgrade the beef characteristics of the indigenous Zebu cattle.

• 1968 -- Canada's first importation of Original Braunvieh.

• 1960s -- In order to increase milk production, Switzerland began importing American Brown Swiss semen to use on the native Original Braunviehs.

• 1968-85 -- More bulls and females were imported directly into Canada. In Canada, Original Braunvieh cattle are registered by the Canadian Brown Swiss Association and are referred to as Beef Brown Swiss. Many breeders in Canada are members of the Braunvieh Association of America and some of their cattle are registered in the United States.

• 1983 -- Original Swiss Braunvieh were imported directly into the United States from


• 1998 – was launched.

• 1984 – The Braunvieh Association of American was organized and incorporated.

• 1990's -- Several importations of Original Braunvieh from Europe in the form of frozen embryos.

• 1999 – Junior Braunvieh Association was formed (JBAA).

• 2001 – First organized Genetic Challenge contest; Max Fulcher Carcass Awards won by Braunvieh Breeders.

• 2006 – Carcass EPD's added to BAA registry.

• 2009 – A Braunvieh breeder was named BIF Commercial Breeder of the Year.


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