The Simmental is among the oldest and most widely distributed of all breeds of cattle in the world. Although the first official herdbook was established in the Swiss Canton of Berne in 1806, there is evidence of large, productive "red and white" cattle being found much earlier in ecclesiastical and secular property records of Western Switzerland. Those 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 (draft) animals." They were known for their gentle nature, impressive stature and excellent dairy qualities.
As early as 1785, the Swiss Parliament limited exports because of a shortage of cattle to meet their own needs. The Swiss "Red and White Spotted Simmental Cattle Association" was formed in 1890. Since its origin in Switzerland, the breed has spread to all six continents. Total numbers are estimated between 40 and 60 million Simmental cattle worldwide, with more than half in Europe. The worldwide spread was gradual until the late 1960s. Records show that a few animals were exported to Italy as early as the 1400s. During the 19th century, Simmental were distributed through most of Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Russia, ultimately reaching South Africa in 1895. Guatemala imported the first Simmental cattle into the Western Hemisphere in 1897, with Brazil following in 1918 and Argentina in 1922.
There are unsubstantiated reports from a variety of sources indicating 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 New York and New Mexico around the 1916-1920 period. An ad in an 1896 issue of the Breeder's Gazette, published in Chicago, also made reference to "Simmenthal" cattle. Apparently, those early imports did not capture the imagination of the American cattleman and the Simmental influence died quietly away until they were reintroduced in the late 1960s.
The breed made its most recent appearance in North America when a Canadian, Travers Smith, imported the famed bull "Parisien" from France in 1967. Semen was introduced into the United States that same year, with the first half-blood Simmental calf born at Geyser, MT, in February, 1968. The American Simmental Association was formed in October, 1968. Simmental spread to Britain, Ireland and Norway in 1970 and to Sweden and other Northern European countries shortly thereafter. The first purebred bull was imported into the United States in 1971 and Australia received Simmental semen and live animals in 1972. The World Simmental Federation (WSF) was formed in Zagreb, Yugoslavia in 1974. In 1976, Simmental cattle were shipped to the Republic of China. The purpose of the WSF was to unify Simmental breeders around the world and provide them with a vehicle through which they could exchange research and information and increase the influence and importance of the Simmental breed.
Selection in Europe was initially for three features . . . milk, meat and as draft animals. The demand for working animals is greatly reduced today but muscularity and high milk production are still important to the success of Simmental. The breed is known by a variety of names, including "Fleckvieh" in Germany; "Pie Rouge", "Montbeliarde", and "Abondance" in France; and "Pezzata Rosa" in Italy. The Simmental name is derived from their original location, the Simme Valley of Switzerland. In German, Thal or Tal means valley, thus the name literally means "Simme Valley".
Simmental have a number of important attributes. They are widely distributed throughout the world, implying adaptability to varied environments and management practices. They have continued to thrive over hundreds of years, implying utility, functional efficiency and productivity; and they are second in numbers, only to Brahman, among all breeds worldwide.
The American Simmental Association (ASA) was founded by a contingent of breeders who came from other breed backgrounds and shared a common goal of establishing a breed base on sound, performance principles. Thus, in its 30+ years of existence, ASA has often been in the forefront of beef industry innovation and progress. In 1971, ASA published the first beef breed sire summary, and since that time has: 1) initiated a cow recognition program; 2) developed Simbrah, a heat tolerant, insect-resistant breed combining the genetics of Simmental and Brahman; 3) developed the first multi-breed EPDs; 4) been a leader in incorporating performance data into the show ring; and, 5) more recently, established the industry standard for proving carcass merit. Most other breeds have followed the leadership of ASA. The growth of Simmental cattle in North America is really a reflection of what has already occurred in most agricultural countries of the world. It appears certain that Simmental will continue to play an important role in the future of the American beef producer.
American Simmental Association (2018, August). History of the Simmental Breed. Retrieved from http://www.simmental.org/site/userimages/History%20of%20the%20Simmental%20Breed.pdf