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A Brief History and Description of the Simmental Breed

History of Simmentals

The Simmental is among the oldest and most widely distributed of all breeds of cattle in the world. Although the first herd book was established in the Swiss Canton of Berne in 1806, there is evidence of large, productive red and white cattle found much earlier in ecclesiastical and secular property records of western Switzerland. These red and white animals were highly sought because of their "rapid growth development; outstanding production of milk, butter, and cheese; and for their use as draught animals." There are reports from a variety of sources indicating that Simmental cattle arrived in the United States before the turn of the century.

Simmental were reported as early as 1887 in Illinois, according to one source; in 1895 in New Jersey; and in both New York and New Mexico around the 1916 to 1920 period. An ad in an 1896 issue of the Breeder's Gazette, published in Chicago, also made reference to "Simmenthal" cattle. However, those early imports did not capture the attention of the American cattleman and the Simmental influence died quietly away until the late 1960s.

The amazing growth of Simmental cattle in North America is really a reflection of what has already occurred in most agricultural countries of the world. Presently, the American Simmental Association registered about 80,000 cattle annually into the Simmental and Simbrah herdbooks. The Association ranks among the top four of the U.S. beef breed associations in annual registrations.

Physical Description of Simmental Cattle

The American Simmental is best described as a performance-tested breed of beef cattle created from a blend of the best strains of Simmental cattle that originated in Europe.

There are certain traits that are characteristic to all strains of Simmental cattle. Simmental cattle, as a breed, tend to have larger, longer heads than British breeds of cattle. Along with this, they have substantially larger ears that are set lower on their head, a trait that can help identify Simmental and Simmental-cross cattle. Another trait that is typical is the appearance of loose folds of hide in the brisket and dewlap area.

Simmental cattle are also recognized for their ruggedness and substance of bone. This traces back to the origin of the breed when they were selected for draft purposes as well as meat and milk production. The heavy skeletal structure necessary for draft animals has been retained in the modern day Simmental and is considered an advantage in today's cattle industry because of the breed's ability to withstand day-to-day stress. This structural strength increases the longevity of Simmental cattle. Their previous use for draft purposes resulted in emphasis on strong feet and legs, a trait the breed still possesses.

Mature Simmental cows will weigh from 1,100 to 1,500 pounds and mature bulls from 2,200 to 2,800 pounds. While it may take 4 years to reach their mature physical size, Simmental cattle are known for their early sexual maturity. Heifers begin cycling at 650-700 pounds, which for many is as early as 9-12 months of age. Yearling bulls reach sexual maturity early and by 15 months of age are active breeders that can service 25 cows or more in a breeding season. Mature bulls can handle 50 cows without stress if managed accordingly. Offspring from sires and dams of this size can easily reach slaughter weights at 1,100 to 1,350 pounds with a sizeable frame that is able to hold extra pounds of red meat and muscle. Weight per day of age and average daily gain are two areas where Simmental excel. When on full feed, Simmental can gain four to five pounds per day under a favorable environment for an extended length of time.

The ability to grow and gain weight is not enough in today's meat industry. Feedlot cattle must be able to do this while still maintaining a high level of feed efficiency. Studies conducted in the U.S. have shown that Simmental cattle have the ability to efficiently convert non-concentrates to gain, which significantly lowers cost per pound of gain. This efficiency of gain is related to the breed's relatively large body capacity.

An important characteristic of Simmental cattle is their excellent maternal traits. In the U.S., the Simmental cow has been selected for her ability to conceive at 15 months, have a live, healthy calf as a two-year-old, and be able to re-breed while nursing her calf to maintain a desirable 365-day calving interval. She must be able to continue this cycle without interruption throughout her productive lifetime, which may be as long as 10-12 years. Proper feeding is necessary to accomplish this as the cow functions only to the extent that sufficient feed resources are provided to her.

The most outstanding and widely recognized maternal trait that has been passed on by European Simmentals is their milking ability. An average, mature Simmental cow produces 16 to 24 pounds of milk per day as compared to 10-15 pounds from the average "Black Baldy" cow.

Traits that should be considered in outstanding milk-producing Simmental females include angularity and femininity throughout the cow's head, neck and shoulder regions. Simmental cows that lactate heavily also tend to be smooth in their muscle structure. Shape and size of the udder is extremely important in Simmental cattle. When evaluating the udder, look for a strong fore and rear attachment to the body wall, equal size of all four quarters and rather small and uniform teats that are evenly spaced on each quarter. Cows whose udders are loosely attached and uneven at the base with one or two quarters extremely small or large should be avoided. Cows with excessively large or balloon-shaped teats that are placed so that they point inward or outward rather than straight down from the udder are also undesirable.

Temperament is another important characteristic of Simmental cattle. The Simmental's gentle nature can be related back to the breed's initial use as draft animals where constant handling and control was common. European herds are normally quite small and contact with the cattle for grazing, milking, etc., occurs daily. Quiet dispositions are highly desired under any type of management, and this is a trait that finds favor with American beef producers.

Some characteristics of American Simmental do not trace back to their European ancestors. Two traits that have been developed in Simmental cattle by American breeders include a wider range of color patterns and the introduction of the polled gene into the breed.

The original purebred Simmental form Europe were red and white or light yellow and white in color. American Simmental include all colors and color patterns with no restrictions.

Color of Simmental in the U.S. can range from almost solid black to very spotted or patchy color patterns to practically white. All variations occur including grey or smokey-colored calves and shades of red and yellow hair coats. Pigmentation around the eyes, as well as the udder and scrotum, are predominant among Simmental cattle in the U.S. This has important consequences in areas of the country where sun scald or sunburning is a problem.

Upgrading was used initially to incorporate the polled gene in Simmental breeding programs. Genetic mutations have also occurred resulting in polled cows of other breeds. Using careful selection criteria, American breeders have maintained the dominant polled gene in an increasing number of American purebred Simmental creating the largest source of polled Simmental genetics anywhere in the world.

The combination of these characteristics has resulted in the American Simmental beef animal. Cattlemen find them to be useful, docile animals that combine excellent maternal qualities along with outstanding meat, muscle and carcass characteristics.

An additional reason for the success of Simmental cattle in the United States is the progressive approach breeders have taken concerning performance-testing programs. Concepts such as open artificial insemination, within-herd comparisons, breed-wide sire evaluation, genetic trait leaders, outstanding cow award programs and required reporting of weights before registration have been assets in selecting cattle with sound economic qualities.

The selection and breeding programs implemented by Simmental breeders plus the superior genetic ability of Simmental cattle have all contributed to the present-day success of the breed.


American Simmental Association, One Simmental Way, Bozeman, MT 59715.


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