The Brown Swiss Cattle Breeders Association of NZ
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History of the Brown Swiss

Most dairy historians agree that Brown Swiss or Braunvieh cattle are the oldest of all dairy breeds. The beautiful brown cows were developed in the north-eastern part of Switzerland. Bones found in the ruins of Swiss lake dwellers date back to probably 4000 BC, and have some resemblance to the skeleton of today's Brown Swiss cow. Documentary evidence shows that the Benedictine monks residing at the Einsiedeln Monastery started breeding these cattle as early as approximately 1000 years ago.

The canton of Schwyz was the scene of most of the early improvement of the Brown Swiss, and in Switzerland the breed is often referred to as Schwyzer 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 lacking in size. For that fact the Brown Swiss is also known as Braunvieh (Brown Cow). The breed spread in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries and in 1900’s the animals were exported to other countries.

Swiss Braunvieh was exhibited at the World Expo in Paris 1856 and in London 1862. Those exhibitions were also visited by Americans, who were looking for an adaptable and capable cow.  In 1869 Henry M. Clark from Belmount, Massachusetts USA, bought one bull and seven cows from the Swiss Farmer Gottlieb Bürgi, Arth CH. Quite a few exports to the USA followed, where the animals have been selected and bred exclusively for milk, but in Europe Braunvieh were dual purpose animals for milk and meat production. Until after the Second World War, Braunvieh were bred for high milk production only.

Many people refer to Braunvieh as Brown Swiss and want to know the difference between the two. Brown Swiss dairy cattle were in fact developed from the Braunvieh beef cattle. Braunvieh was an extremely good milking beef breed and, many years ago, some animal breeders selected the best milking Braunvieh and began breeding these selected individuals for milk production. After many generations the dairy type was developed, and thus the Brown Swiss dairy cattle.

Switzerland, the native home of the Brown Swiss is a rough and mountainous country with a total area of about 15,940 square miles. However, there are only about eight million acres of productive land of which one half is used for hay and pasture. Switzerland has been noted as a cheese producing country for many years, and in the summer many of the dairy herds are taken into the mountainous regions and are grazed on the abundant pastures and meadows that result from the heavy rainfall.

In the 1960s the genetics of the productive American Brown Swiss were imported back into Europe, crossed over the European Brown Swiss and now constitute the biggest part of the population.  Since then Brown Swiss has come a long way. Today in the USA the average 305 day production of the Brown Swiss breed is 22,026 pounds of milk, 875 pounds fat, and 726 pounds protein. Highest lifetime production is held by Studach’s Regal Morchel in Switzerland. She produced 434’310 pounds of milk, 14’930 pounds of fat and 14’921 pounds of protein.

A background of extreme terrain and weather has produced a cattle breed world renowned for many definitive characteristics. Today the Brown Swiss is the second largest dairy breed in the world with a reported over 8 million registered cattle and the world population estimated at over 14 million head.


  Brown Swiss cow (above)
Braunvieh cow (below)

The Brown Swiss or Braunvieh are light brown in colour with a creamy white muzzle and dark nose, dark-blue eye pigmentation which helps the breed to resist extreme solar radiation. Brown Swiss cattle have been bred horned and polled, when horned the horns are short and white growing dark towards the top. Brown Swiss are robust, a prolific breeder, long-lived, strong, adaptable and very well-balanced in build with good hooves and limbs.

This breed has a double utility as they are used for dairy and beef purposes providing good milk and meat output.

Milk producers throughout the world are adding Brown Swiss to their herds daily, because of the good milk, protein and butter fat production. Their correct feet and legs allow them to stay in the milking herd for more lactations than many other breeds. The milk of the Brown Swiss cow is coveted by cheese makers. The volume of milk plus the protein produced by Brown Swiss makes the best milk for the fluid and cheese markets. Brown Swiss breeders benefit from the best fat-to-protein ratio of any of the dairy breeds for production of most cheeses.



  • Close protein/fat ratio - Brown Swiss milk possesses the closest protein/fat ratio of any dairy breed.
  • Feet and legs - Properly structured legs allies to strong, hard, black, well formed feet, that mean Brown Swiss cattle have few problems. No doubt this is one of the key qualities that enable many Brown Swiss to continue producing in the herd until they are 12-15 years of age.
  • Quiet Temperament - Dairymen, members of the association, all of whom have worked with a variety of breeds are completely unanimous in their praise of the docile temperament and inquisitive nature of these quiet cattle.
  • Longevity - The characteristic longevity of the breed is very evident in the Brown Swiss. While the breed tends to be later maturing than other breeds, cows tend to reach their peak in 5th or later lactations. Some breeds find it difficult to reach this stage, while the strength of the Brown Swiss allows them to lead long productive lives.
  • Strength & Hybrid Vigour - Brown Swiss cows are cattle of great substance and strength. The experience of having cows ‘go down’ with metabolic problems or any other reason is rare amongst Brown Swiss owners.
  • Brown Swiss are renowned for their role when crossed with other dairy breeds or for that fact with beef breeds as well, in generally improving the production and strength of the parent breed. This is evident throughout the world from the tropics to the alpine regions.

Brown Swiss in New Zealand

The inaugural meeting of Brown Swiss Cattle Breeders Association of New Zealand was held in Kaponga, Taranaki, on 13th February, 1973.  Mr Adolf Hardegger was elected President, a role he held until 1984.

The first calves were born in spring 1976. Semen was initially sourced from Canada and Europe. In 1986 we were able to source semen from the United States for the first time with the arrival of the bull ‘Golden Dawn Elegant Master’.

The Association was a frequent exhibitor at The National Fieldays at Mystery Creek until the cost became prohibitive.
Over the years Brown Swiss cattle have been shown at A & P shows around the country, as well as, more recently at Dairy Event. Today the Association continues to promote the breed, represents the interest of the breed on the Dairy Breeds Federation and assists breeders.

Registration of pedigree animals is contracted to the Holstein Friesian Association.

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