HIGH CLASS IN HILLS
WITH an average herd size of 15 cows, Swiss dairy farms are small – and heavily subsidised.
But success of the national cattle breeding association has increased milk yields by 50kg a cow a year since the 1960s, claims Heinz Herzog, director of the Swiss Braunvieh Federation, Zug, Switzerland.
Mr Herzog says the late 1960s saw increased demand for animals with higher output and stronger build. To achieve these objective many Original Braunvieh breeders imported Brown-Swiss genetics from America to produce the Braunvieh milk cow.
As a result of cow breeding and progeny testing the national average milk yield reached 5598 litres by June 1995, higher than the UK national average NMR yield of 6153 litres. "Swiss cows have good reliability, stayability and workability," he says. "They also have an average life of 4.5 lactations, which is longer than in the UK, I believe.
"A quarter of Switzerland is suitable for grassland but much of this is at 1200 to 3000m and is covered in snow for over half the year. Therefore, it is only suitable for youngstock between May and September."
Although average herd size is small, at 15 cows, this is enough to provide one family with an income after subsidy, he claims.
Mr Herzog says these subsidies are paid as part of the Swiss agricultural policy which aims to:
• Keep remote valleys populated and farmed.
• Protect the environment by allowing cattle to graze.
• Keep imports of food as low as possible.
• Subsidise farms as a whole, not on cow numbers, to give the farmer an income and to produce food of high quality.
Total cattle numbers exceed 200,000. Of these 43% are Simmental and 41% Braunvieh, and youngstock, of which 10% are Original Braunvieh dual-purpose cattle, claims Mr Herzog.
A high proportion of the stock are replacement heifers reared to calve at three years old without concentrates. Many are exported to Italy.
"Concentrates are too expensive to consider feeding them to stock other than milking cows," says Mr Herzog.
Nearly all youngstock spend two summers in the mountains, as grassland in lower areas is needed for milking cows.
"Export of 10,000-15,000 heifers a year provides the main income for many small farms in the mountain regions," he adds. *