Steeped in tradition
Armbrusters embrace family, cows that last
Steve (left) and Eric Armbruster handle the herd manager duties at Red Brae Dairy where they milk 320 cows, including 180 registered Brown Swiss, near Muscoda, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
MUSCODA, Wis. – Creating cows that last is the foundation that built Red Brae Dairy, and the philosophy continues to be the fuel that drives the future. Longevity is one of the traits the Armbruster family loves about breeding registered Brown Swiss.
Red Brae Dairy is operated by Edgar and Phyllis Armbruster and their sons, Steve, David and Eric. Edgar and Phyllis’ daughters, Jill, Lea Ann and Beth, and their families continue to be involved with the farm as well.
Steve and Eric manage the dairy herd, while David heads up the cropping of about 700 acres. The Armbrusters milk about 320 cows, 180 of which are Brown Swiss and the remainder are Holsteins, in a double-10 herringbone parlor built in 2010. The Brown Swiss herd averages just over 21,000 pounds of milk, 950 pounds of fat and 750 pounds of protein. The farm is home to 30 Excellent cows and five cows that have been nominated all-American.
The history of the Red Brae herd and prefix predates the Armbruster’s family involvement with the herd. The family first became connected with the Red Brae prefix in 1965 when Edgar’s brother, Jim Armbruster, went to work as herd manager for Lyle Spencer at the farm in Eagle, procuring top-quality Brown Swiss cows for the farm. When Spencer passed away in 1969, Jim, Edgar and their brother, Andrew, purchased the cattle from the estate. The farm continued as such until 1974 when Jim joined the Halbach family at Marana Dairy in Arizona, taking about 200 head of Red Brae Brown Swiss to the venture.
His brothers remained on the farm in Eagle, working with about 50 older cows. The Armbruster family farmed in Eagle until 1993 when they moved to their current location in Muscoda.
A complete, balanced cow is the ideal animal to the Armbrusters.
“Cows need to be three-dimensional; they all have to have width, height and length,” Steve said. “Good cows can come in all different sizes, but there is nothing wrong with a big Swiss cow.”
They hold to the ideal that cows need to milk and be profitable while having sound functional type, including great udders. When selecting sires to use in the herd, Steve said they use bulls out of good cows that match their goals.
“We use a lot of different bulls,” Steve said. “With so many cows, we like to spread things around a bit. I figure if you have 10 daughters of a good bull, you should have eight good ones.”
Bulls that are sires of current herd favorites include Bosephus, Norwin, Carter and Cadence. In the heifer and calf pens, Steve has noticed the Richard and Noble daughters. Current service sires in use include VB Biver Phantom, Gubelman Kingsley, Cozy Nook Carl Trek, along with several bulls from Swiss Genetics.
Cow families are the cornerstone of the Armbrusters’ breeding program. Four cow families figure prominently into the success the herd has had. The Fanny family descends from one of the original cows following Jim’s move to Arizona. The other three primary families are descendants of show heifers that Jim purchased for his nieces and nephews when they were junior members.
Red Brae Fanny, a past World Dairy Expo Reserve Grand Champion, is among the earliest herd favorites. Although there are no longer any cows in the herd descended from her maternally, her presence remains through descendants of her son, Red Brae Faro.
“Faro really put us back in the show business,” Steve said.
Jills Faro Twinkle was the 1987 World Dairy Expo Grand Champion, and three more Faro daughters stood second in their classes at Expo and a fifth daughter received an all-American nomination. The Red Brae showstring claimed the 1988 Premier Breeder banner at World Dairy Expo, anchored by two Faro daughters and two more Faro granddaughters.
A daughter of Twinkle, Jills Improver Trinket topped the 1988 National Sale and went on to be named the grand champion at the Royal Winter Agricultural Fair in 1988 and 1993, and took reserve honors in 1990 for Rowntree Farms of Ontario.
A daughter of Fanny, Red Brae Fanita sold in the National Sale to Voegeli Farms and Pinehurst Farms, and was the junior champion at the 1979 World Dairy Expo. Red Brae Fanita was later named the all-time all-American senior yearling.
Another influential cow family was that of Meadow Valley Joanna. Her daughter by Faro was the dam of DAA Jade Jaqi, a three-time all-American for the Armbrusters.
Many of what Steve considers to be the best cows in the herd descend from yet another cow family, descendants of SPA Faro Noel. Her offspring anchored the showstring that captured five all-Wisconsin and four reserve all-Wisconsin awards on the way to earning the Armbrusters both the premier breeder and exhibitor banners at this summer’s Midwest Regional Wisconsin Championship Brown Swiss Show.
Showing has always been a family affair for the Armbrusters, dating back to Jim’s purchase of show heifers for his nieces and nephews. Jim’s presence is remembered after his death earlier this year, as the banners won this year flank his photograph above the farmhouse kitchen table. Today, Lea Ann’s children, Elise and Brady, and Beth’s children, Calli and Wyatt, participate in carrying on that tradition, exhibiting many Red Brae heifers to high honors at local, state and national shows.
“Jim is responsible for getting us involved in showing,” Steve said. “It has been great to continue the tradition, working with the next generation of the family. I take so much pride in everything the kids have accomplished with their hard work and successes, like Wyatt’s win in the Youth Dairy Classic Fitting Contest this fall.”