AN ALL-AMERICAN FAIRY TALE COME TRUE
Opsal enjoys success found with breeding Brown Swiss - Published in the March Brown Swiss bulletin.
By Danielle Nauman
BLUE MOUNDS, Wis. - A little boy, who grew up on a Holstein farm, once visited Sunshine Genetics in Whitewater, Wisconsin, with his father, and there he began to develop an affinity for the Brown Swiss breed. “I would go along with my dad when he would take flush cows to Sunshine, and I admired the Brown Swiss herd I would see there,” said Joey Opsal. “Chris Keim eventually convinced my dad to put an embryo in on shares. I was too little to show that resulting calf, but my brother did.” Opsal credits friends and mentors Rayme and Kristin Mackinson for fanning the flames of his interest in the Brown Swiss breed. “We housed a couple of their animals, and they allowed me to show one that I eventually purchased, RK-Arthurst Tanbark Feisty,” Opsal said, noting that Feisty has had her own impressive show career.
It was at the prompting of the Mackinsons that Opsal applied for the Nelson McCammon Youth Heifer Program. The Youth Heifer program, offered by the Wisconsin Brown Swiss Association, helps subsidize youth in the purchase of a registered Brown Swiss. With that grant, Opsal purchased a heifer named Dublin-Hills Perse phone in the Kentucky National Sale in 2017 and embarked on his career as a Brown Swiss breeder in earnest. Today Opsal, along with his fiancee Hayleigh Geurink, has developed a modest herd of nine Brown Swiss cows living among the herd of Holsteins on the farm he operates with his father near Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. Joey Opsal parades Opsal-J Pop A Bottle during the Winter Calf Class at World Dairy Expo Oct. 4, 2022 in Madison, Wisconsin. Pop A Bottle is a second generation, homebred All-American nomination for Opsal.
When she moved to Wisconsin, Geurink brought her own group of Black Ridge Genetics Brown Swiss co-owned with Kelvin Webster as well. “My dad sometimes grumbles that the Swiss are taking over,” Opsal said with a laugh. “But then you’ll catch him paying a little extra attention to them.” While their collective brown herd may be modest in size, the accolades they have collected are anything but. As the dust settled on the 2022 show season, the small herd laid claim to its first unanimous All-American with Opsal-J Fuel My Fire in the Fall Calf Class; two individual Honorable Mention All-American awards with Black-Ridge R Look My Way in the Spring Calf Class and Opsal-J Pop A Bottle, owned with Peter Vail, in the Winter Calf Class. Pop A Bottle is a second-generation, bred-and-owned nomination for Opsal. In addition, Opsal garnered Reserve All-American honors in the Junior Best 3 Females class.
In total, the herd has tallied up seven All-American nominations since Opsal’s purchase of Persephone. Persephone’s offspring come by their show-ring performance naturally. Persephone herself went on to be named a Reserve Wisconsin Bell-Ringer for Opsal that year as a summer yearling, after a top-ten finish at World Dairy Expo. All three of Persephone’s natural calves have garnered All-American nominations for Opsal, with two receiving the nod for Reserve All-American honors; and she is due back with another Phantom heifer calf. “My first few years as a Brown Swiss breeder have been exciting and rewarding. When the first heifer to carry your prefix is a national show class winner and is nominated All-American, that certainly fuels a passion,” Opsal said. Besides the show-ring success, Opsal said that he appreciates the hardi ness of the breed.
“They never have problems; they just take care of themselves. They are easy keepers,” Opsal said. “I really enjoy that attitude at the shows...they just get ready themselves, they know when it is game time.” With a small herd, Opsal said sometimes he struggles with mating decisions. “So much of the herd is so closely related, it limits the options of what bulls I can use,” Opsal said, noting he relies on advice from Geurink and from other breeders as well. “It has really become a team effort, two heads are better than one.”
Opsal said his own breeding philosophy trends towards breeding for show-ring type. Joey Opsal exhibits Opsal-J Pop A Bottle in the Winter Calf Class at World Dairy Expo Oct. 4, 2022 in Madison, Wisconsin. “I probably try to make my Swiss a little more Holstein-like, going for extreme style and dairyness,” Opsal said. “But I also try to keep the massive strength and breed character. I focus on openness, great feet and legs and udders. I want them to work hard, last, and look pretty doing it all.” Besides loving the big brown cow, Opsal said he has been grateful for all of the friends and mentors he has found in other aficionados of the breed. “The people I have met through the breed are great people, so open and willing to share and teach,” Opsal said. “I am really glad to have found the breed and I look forward to watching our herd continue to grow.”
Opsal said that he appreciates the hardiness of the breed. “They never have problems; they just take care of themselves. They are easy keepers."