IT is not the most talked about dairy cattle breed in Australia, but Lower South East dairyfarmers Nol and Jennifer Van Rijthoven have achieved success with Brown Swiss.
Their jaunt to the International Dairy Week at Tatura, Victoria, last month resulted in a swag of broad ribbons, including champion cow, reserve champion cow, grand champion Brown Swiss exhibit and best udder.
The cows doing most of the winning for them were Grasslands Senator Maiden 2nd, which won champion cow and grand champion exhibit awards, and Grasslands Dynasty Karlee, winning best udder and reserve champion cow.
The four-year-old Maiden 2nd comes from a rich pedigree: her grandmother was champion cow at IDW in 2006 and her mother was intermediate champion at 2009 IDW and received an honourable mention in 2011.
It was an outstanding result for the Rijthovens, who milk 380 cows at Grasslands, Compton, south west of Mount Gambier.
Their venture into Brown Swiss started about 12 years ago when they were put onto it by their semen salesman.
“We were buying Italian Holstein semen from him, then he said to us we should get into Brown Swiss because they are nice, big animals and have good fat and protein,” Jennifer said.
Since then, they have built their Brown Swiss numbers up to a point where the breed makes up about 25 per cent of their herd.
The rest are Holsteins.
The Van Rijthovens say there are myriad things they like about Brown Swiss.
“There are so many things – they’re just a likeable animal,” Nol said.
“They are a very friendly animal – you can walk right up to them and pat them.
“Brown Swiss don’t stress very much and adapt to different climates very well.”
Jennifer said the cattle had very good feet and legs, which reduced issues with lameness.
The Van Rijthovens herd-test the Brown Swiss separately from the Holsteins, which enables them to make interesting comparisons.
While they average five litres a cow less than the Holsteins, they return better results for fat and protein.
“When you convert kilograms of milk solids and take away the cost of carting the extra volume from the Holsteins, there is no difference between the two,” Jennifer said.
The Brown Swiss also boast lower cell counts on average, meaning less instance of mastitis.
Europe is full of Brown Swiss cattle and with the advantages the cattle posses, Nol and Jennifer believe there are more people using them in Australia.
“A lot of dairyfarmers in Queensland have them because they handle the heat and humidity well,” Nol said.
The couple have seen firsthand the increasing demand for the breed because they sell home-bred Brown Swiss bulls, seven of which went into New South Wales last year.
They favour Italian sires for the style of cattle they produce.
On their 100-hectare home property, 70ha is under irrigation and they lease another 120ha at a neighbouring property.
Young stock are raised on the property’s out-paddocks, grazing ryegrass and clover pastures.
They keep all their heifers to maintain herd numbers but are slowly increasing Brown Swiss numbers through a cross-breeding program, mating Holsteins to Brown Swiss.
Besides the Brown Swiss, the Van Rijthovens differ in their pasture management.
After coming off a feedpad where they feast on hay and silage, the cows head to paddocks to graze, but are then shifted twice a day – normally at about 10am and 2pm.
Apart from ryegrass and clover, the cows have access to brassicas, such as pasja, a hybrid forage brassica bred for rapid growth and high-performance, with a high leaf-tobulb ratio.
Nol said shifting the herd twice a day stimulated their appetite.
“They eat 8pc more of their daily intake and get good milk production, so something has to be contributing to that,” he said.
“The cows harvest the forage better that way.
“We try and get maximum grazing out of maximum production, which comes back to good grazing and pasture management.”