Brown Swiss Enthusiasts Gather for National Convention

7/21/2012 7:00 AM
By Leon Thompson Vermont Correspondent

SHELBURNE, Vt. — On the second night of the Brown Swiss Association’s (BSA) national convention here in July, attendees boarded the Spirit of Ethan Allen for an Independence Day dinner cruise on scenic Lake Champlain.

“The sky was nice and bright to the south,” said Kristie Kelley, 2012 convention co-chair, several days later. “The north was a bit dark.”

The north sky won. Everyone cleared the decks and went inside. Within minutes — and with zero visibility out the ship windows — BSA dinner cruisers ate as a highly publicized storm cell downed power lines, flooded streets and businesses, and pounded the greater Burlington, Vt., area.

“As we went back to the dock, the sun was shining, and everyone was up on the top deck, taking pictures,” Kelley said. “We told everyone that the evening was a perfect example of an old New England saying, If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute. It’ll change.’ “

The rest of the convention was smooth. From July 3-7, about 250 BSA members — all Brown Swiss farmers — gathered to share their passion for the Brown Swiss breed.

“I love their personalities, their size and scale, and their silly elephant ears,” said Kelley, who has Brown Swiss heifers on the small farm she owns and operates in Piermont, N.H., with her five daughters.

Kelley joined the BSA in 1998, soon after she milked her first Brown Swiss and “fell in love with it.” Brown Swiss originated in the valleys and mountains of Switzerland. They can produce large volumes of milk in various climates and altitudes, and their milk is ideal for cheese.

Colchester, Vt., dairy farmer Pat Fitzgerald, who was one of many hosts during a string of farm tours at the convention, said he did not own any Brown Swiss when the BSA last held its annual meeting in Vermont, back in 2001.

Now, 20 mature and 20 young Brown Swiss make up one-third of Fitzgerald’s 120-cow herd. “They have a good temperament,” he said of the Brown Swiss. “We’ve been very pleased with them.”

Fitzgerald, his wife, Carol, and their three children were good hosts to the busload of strangers that roamed their barn, armed with cameras, neck badges and itineraries.

“We’re very interested in the cattle that are here,” said Norman McCure, who traveled to the convention from Wagga Wagga, Australia (pop. 60,000), with his wife, Sheila.

The McCures added 50 Brown Swiss to their 450-head herd in 2010. They were unaware of an annual convention in America until Sheila was making online arrangements for a wedding they were to attend in Vermont this summer — the same week as the convention. So they took their first trip to the U.S.

“We’ve met wonderful people from all over America, and they’re all interested in the same thing,” Norman said. “It’s been terrific.”

During the 1 ½-hour business meeting on Friday morning, attendees elected new officers. Lee Barber, of Iowa, succeeds Mike Moyers, of Texas, as BSA board president for two years. The board also contains nine directors — one for each regional district. Each serves a three-year term.

Newly elected board directors are Dave Gunter, of Missouri (District VI) and Richard Sparrow, of Kentucky (District III). Bill Nolan, of Illinois, was re-elected to the District IV seat.

Friday was also Youth Day at the convention. More than 45 children and teens participated in a Dairy Quiz Bowl Competition and then the “Ag Olympics,” which included such activities as driving wheelbarrows through an obstacle course — easy enough, until they bring out the blindfolds, and ban you from spilling the cup of water in your wheelbarrow.

Youth event awards were presented during a Friday night barbecue at the Coach Barn at Shelburne. Prior to dinner, there was a short bus ride to historic Shelburne Farms, where sale animals were housed for the always hotly attended Saturday morning Brown Swiss auction — a popular staple of each convention.

Seventy-four Brown Swiss sold at an average of nearly $6,000 each this year. The top-selling cow went for $20,000, while other high-priced animals went for a few thousand dollars less.

The BSA has about 10,000 members in the U.S. but works with other Brown Swiss farmers in Canada, Mexico, England and other countries.

Kelley and her co-chair, Laurie Cuevas, of Cheshire, Mass., started planning the 2012 convention in December 2010, with key committee members in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. They held several meetings in Brattleboro, Vt., a central location.

“The first thing we did was find a location (for the convention),” Kelley said. “Shelburne was our top choice.”

Having the convention in beautiful — even stormy —Vermont was one of the highlights this year, Kelley said. But what do people want to see at future BSA conventions?

“Farms!” she said. “We are all farmers. We like to see good cows.”

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