Sarah Liddle talks to the Bradleys of Inglehurst Farm, near Harrogate, about their passion for the Brown Swiss breed

ONE of the few herds in Yorkshire with registered Brown Swiss dairy cattle can be found on the outskirts of Harrogate at Inglehurst Farm.

Run by Emily Bradley, a third-generation farmer who milks 120 cows alongside her parents, Stephen and Michelle, the herd is now roughly half pedigree Brown Swiss.

The remainder are either crossbreds, which are being bred to Aberdeen Angus, or Holsteins, which are being bred to either Holstein or beef. The aim being to breed a stronger, average size, robust dairy cow that will graze and milk well on their wet 180-acre farm, which sees cows turned out in late May or early June (after first cut if forage stocks allow).

In addition, as Emily and Stephen run a contracting business, which includes silaging for neighbours, having low-maintenance cows, such as the Brown Swiss, is crucial for them during busy times.

About 20 years ago, Stephen, who has milked on the family farm since he was ten, was milking Holsteins but finding them too extreme and demanding, and recalls seeing Brown Swiss unusually at the Great Yorkshire Show.

He liked the look of them, so he responded to an advert for a bull for sale by John Ball, of Sujenca Brown Swiss, near Sandbach, and travelled to Cheshire where he was impressed by cows in the herd, which were by Brown Swiss and up to 13 and 14 years of age.

Emily remembers going with her parents to John West’s of the Farrick Brown Swiss herd at Chipping, near Preston, as a teenager to buy another Brown Swiss bull. John showed her a Brown Swiss Chimes, the breed society magazine, before handing her a society membership form and igniting her passion for Brown Swiss pedigree cattle that Emily still has today.

Other bulls followed from the Hunday herd and more from the West’s, although as a closed herd the Brown Swiss have been graded up with each generation rather than buying in females of pure status. When Emily left school, she completed a DIY Artificial Insemination course, which has enabled her to use sexed semen, breeding more heifers and to use a wider range of genetics.

With the blended herd of Brown Swiss, Holsteins and some cross breeds producing about 800,000 litres milk annually, the herd runs at high components of 4.5 per cent fat and 3.32 per cent protein, which the family apportion in part to ‘the Brown Swiss effect’.

Other notable breed attributes include the temperament of the Swiss. For example, Emily has found they have more ‘looks’ and character, including one who will not come into the parlour for milking until she has been given a stroke.

Each of the bulls seem to have identifiable traits such as the latest run of calves sired by Dynamite, which Emily describes as ‘all a bit cheeky’. The herd's oldest Brown Swiss cross is now 13 years old, and it was her daughter, Inglehurst Fantastic Caramel, that Emily first took to the local show, Nidderdale in 2013.

Emily Bradley with prize winning Brown Swiss at Nidderdale show 2019

Emily Bradley with prize winning Brown Swiss at Nidderdale show 2019

Caramel now has a granddaughter, Inglehurst Norwin Fern, who is herself served and is one of four youngsters so far that are 94 pre cent pure Brown Swiss showing how quickly the generations move on towards pedigree purity.

Other breed traits worthy of mention that the family have experienced with the Brown Swiss is a resilience to the great Yorkshire weather. On a wet day in summer above Harrogate, Holsteins can be found sheltering in the hedge backs and gathered in gateways, while the Brown Swiss continue to graze mid-field unperturbed.

From a health perspective, the Bradleys cannot recall treating a Brown Swiss for milk fever, and it is exceedingly rare a Swiss is tubed for mastitis.

In terms of yields, the Brown Swiss give as much milk if not more than their Holstein herd counterparts, although the breed is certainly later maturing, they seem to last longer, so this is considered a plus.

While first lactations are generally lower than the Holsteins by their second lactations, they tend to be on a par and, from then on, they improve year on year, before outlasting the Holsteins.

Emily and Stephen are aiming to calve all heifers of both breeds on the farm nearer two years and three months as this suits the farm, and they have found as a breed that the Brown Swiss tends to carry weight, whatever their age and sex.

As a breed, the Brown Swiss are prone to better levels of fertility and they tend to keep weight post-calving and carry it throughout their lactation. However, it is necessary to avoid excessive weight gain during the dry period, although the crossbreds do gain weight successfully for cull cow premiums and the use of Aberdeen Angus on the older cows is creating a sought-after calf.

These calves by named sires are now being looked out in the ring at Wharfedale market, with repeat buyers and Aberdeen Angus cross Brown Swiss heifers can make between £150 and £200 at six to eight weeks of age, while bulls make on average £200 to £300. Stores are also kept and sold at 18 to 24 months of age, as and when space allows. Generally as a breed, less feet problems are found, with Emily a trained foot trimmer and tackling all foot-trimming on farm herself.

With the move to forage boxes for silaging for their own benefit a few years ago, the Bradleys have been impressed with the forage conserved to feed their own herd.

The high fat and protein milk in part is attributed to the breed and to the ration, which is a mix of grass silage and blend, previously also with brewers’ grains (but these have been unavailable during the pandemic, with no detrimental effect on performance). With the forage box pulverising the grass less than self-propelled foragers, resulting in a more open feed, the stock tend to sort less and therefore ingest and utilise better. There is, therefore, less passage of unused material through the cow as seen in the muck, so the family is very happy with their decision to move to forage boxes for their own ensiling of grass and also for their contracting business.

With about ten to 12 Brown Swiss registered heifers born each year at Inglehurst Farm, Emily has kept increasing the numbers she has taken to the local Nidderdale show and is indebted to the support given to her by local Brown Swiss enthusiast David Brown of the now disbanded Lunar herd.

In 2018, she showed an in-calf heifer for the first time, which she halter-broke in two weeks, again testament she says to the temperament of the breed and further evidence to why the breed is here to stay at Inglehurst farm.