Agroscope, BFH-HAFL

Mountain Milk Production with Dual-Purpose Cows: Outdated Tradition or Modern Moneyspinner?

Although milk-production oriented (MPO) cow breeds have also become established in the mountain region, farms with the dual-purpose ‘Original Simmental’ breed are proving to be economically viable, with lower costs and higher direct payments making up for lower revenues from milk.

Thanks to advances in breeding, milk-production oriented (MPO) cattle have increasingly been bred in the Swiss mountain region, whilst dual-purpose breeds have fallen behind in popularity. With this trend, secondary traits such as fertility, health and useful life have been deemed less important. Lower beef conformation has resulted in the dwindling of body reserves which are useful in meagre forage conditions, for example in the summer-grazing areas.

The study investigated the economic efficiency of the old ‘Original Simmental’ (OS) dual-purpose breed. To this end, 19 randomly selected (OS) farms underwent a detailed farm-branch analysis based on multiyear accounting data (2018–2020) and interviews and were compared to a reference group of 56 FADN (Farm Accountancy Data Network) farms (Agroscope).

Higher ancillary income, lower costs, less work

In the study, an Original Simmental cow produced 5559 kg milk per year, almost 2000 kg less than the MPO-type cow of the FADN farms (7384 kg). However, on the OS farms the corresponding lower income from milk was more than offset by higher ancillary income from the sale of the animals and direct payments, with significantly less milk being diverted for the calves for about the same numbers of cows and calves. The higher direct payments were due in particular to significantly higher biodiversity payments. At -22% and -12% respectively, both the absolute direct costs and the structural costs were lower for the OS farms than for the reference farms, with the OS farms investing on average 52 fewer hours per cow and year (-19%).

Original Simmental well adapted to the mountain region

With a similar gross margin, the OS farms achieved a 60% higher annual income from dairy farming in absolute terms. They also generated a 34%-higher area income (CHF 2954 vs. CHF 2198), and a 76%-higher labour remuneration per hour of work (CHF 18.70 vs. CHF 10.60). The better results are also – at least indirectly – related to the breed, since lower individual animal performances with simultaneously good fertility and fitness traits enable site-adapted production with extensive forage production, pasture feeding and seasonal calving. In this manner, successful economic use was obviously made of the available local resources such as summer grazing land and biodiversity.


  • The major difference in individual animal performances between a milk-production- oriented and a dual-purpose breed of cow suggests that in the mountain region today an MPO cow no longer in and of itselfcontributes to greater economic efficiency.
  • The dual-purpose breed ‘Original Simmental’ appears to be an economically worthwhile option, give that its good adaptation to the site…
    • allows for labour-saving management;
    • allows for more extensively managed land, which triggers biodiversity payments;
    • keeps direct costs low.
  • Secondary performance traits such as health and fertility should be preserved or even further strengthened in breeding selection, and an eye must also be kept on cow weight in view of topographical factors.
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