Red Brae Farm, Armbrusters, Muscoda, Wis.
A family tradition continues
Family, cow families the cornerstone of Red Brae
Article & photos by Danielle Nauman for The December 2020 issue of the Brown Swiss Bulletin
MUSCODA, Wis. – Creating cows that last is the foundation that built Red Brae Dairy and it continues to be the fuel that drives the future. That longevity is one of the things that the Armbruster family loves about breeding registered Brown Swiss and developing deep cow families.
The Armbruster family first became connected with the Red Brae prefix in 1965 when Jim Armbruster went to work as herd manager for Lyle Spencer at the farm in Eagle, Wis. After Mr. Spencer’s passing, Jim and his brothers Edgar and Andrew purchased the herd. In 1974, 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, continuing to work with about 50 older cows, continuing to build the Red Brae herd. The Armbruster family farmed in Eagle until 1993 when they moved to their current location in Muscoda, Wis. Today the farm is operated by Edgar and Phyllis’ sons Steve, David and Eric; their sisters Jill, Lea Ann and Beth, and their families, all continue to be involved with the farm as well. They milk about 320 cows, 180 of which are Brown Swiss, with the remainder being Holsteins. The cows are milked in a double-10 herringbone parlor built in 2010.
The breeding philosophy employed at Red Brae is simple, but has served the herd well. “Cows need to be three-dimensional,” Steve said. “Good cows can come indifferent sizes, and there is nothing wrong with a big brown cow as long as she has the width to go with her height and length. The Armbrusters hold to the idea that cows need to milk, and that in order to be productive and efficient, they need to have sound functional type, including great udders. When selecting sires to use in the herd, Steve says they like to use bulls out of good cows that match their own goals. “We use a lot of different bulls,” Steve said. “With so many cows, we like to spread things around a bit.” Bulls that are counted as 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 Armbruster’s breeding program. Four cow families figure prominently into the success the herd has had.
Red Brae Fanny, a past World Dairy Expo Reserve Grand Champion, is among the earliest herd favorites and 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 in 1993 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 Expo, and 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 today descend from yet another cow family, descendants SPA Faro Noel. Her offspring anchored the showstring that earned Red Brae 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 still felt and 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-level shows.