Variability is a lesson that could be well taught by the Simmental. An ancient breed, the ability to adapt to its environment has allowed them to become influential in cattle markets across the world. Simmentals were developed at a time that cattle were multipurpose creatures, not only were they raised for their meat but also for their heavy milking ability and even draft uses. The fact that they were so extensively used made it necessary to highlight docility amongst planned crosses. Most of these traits, some now enhanced, continue in the modern Simmental.
The Simmental traces its origins to the Simme Valley in Switzerland. Impressive in size, Simmentals had an early worldwide distribution, some areas having more success in their production than others. Simmentals are known by distinct names, all having regional breeding focuses. The Pie Rouge of France has an emphasis placed on beef production; their cattle are thick with heavier musculature. The Montbeliarde was bred to continue the heavy milking potential of the Simmentals. Many consider these to be the second heaviest milking strain, surpassed only by the Holstein. The Abondance is more moderate in size; it has a smaller frame and relative to the other varieties, is lighter boned. The popular Austro-German Fleckviehs have superior fleshing abilities and are easy calvers. The Swiss Simmentals continue to be large framed with generously proportioned muscles. The Italian countryside has seen its own Simmentals, referred to as Peseta Rosa—which translated means rose-colored coins, a likely tribute to the marketability of the Simmental.
Simmentals were introduced very early into the United States. Their earliest recorded presence was in Illinois during 1887. A transitional time in the country, the Simmental had little success until its reintroduction in the 1960s. The first purebred calf was born in 1968, out of a breeding using imported semen. In 1974, the World Simmental Federation was formed. Its main goals were to unify breeders by providing a base for information and research exchange, and to increase the influence and importance of the breed.
The American Simmental Association came together in order to further the advancement of the breed within the United States. Its members though diverse in their backgrounds coincided in their progressive approach. The ASA has open AI breedings, a cow recognition program and within herd comparisons. It was the first breed association with a sire summary. Performance data for the Simmental has also translated directly in the show ring.
Though unmistakable similarities exist within Simmentals of every region, the American Simmental has focused primarily to highlight the breeds beef qualities. They are rugged animals of substantial bone. Ultimately large in size, it may come as a surprise that Simmentals are exceptionally easy calvers. Though they have low birth weights, they have fast growth rates. Cows are excellent mothers and have very long production cycles. Cows and bulls reach sexual maturity early, in contrast to other Continental breeds that may take longer to develop. Though their milking abilities have not been selected for, the Simmental continues to be an above average milker. Their economic benefits to beef breeders are almost unsurpassed by any other breed. They are of renowned docility, and have excellent weight gaining abilities. The carcass yield is very good, with meat grading high. Simmental beef is tender and highly palatable.
The upgrading program in America has introduced a wide range of colors to the breed. The original coloration for Simmentals was red and white or gold and white. All colors and all color patterns are accepted within the American Simmental Association. A gene for polledness has also been established within the breed, most likely coming from Angus crosses. There is so much variety within the breed that ranchers may select those animals better suited to their particular environments. They are such an adaptable breed however, that a universal standard is difficult to quantify. The risk of a lessened genetic pool is minimal for Simmental breeders.
A very popular cross is the SimAngus; the resulting offspring combine the best of the English and Continental breed traits. Performance numbers, fertility rates, yield grades and marbling have made these cattle highly marketable. The Simbrah, a cross between Simmental and Brahman is also flourishing in regions that cannot support extensive grazing. The Brahman influence in the cattle makes them hardy and more resistant to the climate and flora of southern regions in the US.
Simmental cattle are a wealth amongst beef breeds. Their traits are exceedingly heritable and the data for prediction of offspring qualities is very reliable. The naturally lean beef, its tenderness and high yield is an asset for feedlots. As more breeds continue the search for heterosis, the Simmental is likely to be a superb complimentarity option. It is their docility and variability which will keep the Simmental a powerful presence amongst the beef industry.