Thank you very much to Simmental breeder, and Dansk Simmental Board Member, Henning Hansen who has kindly supplied the following overview of the breed and Society in Denmark. Henning is a well-known breeder to British Simmental visitors to Denmark and earlier this year also acted as a judge for one of the BSCS’s Virtual Show classes.

In Denmark we have just about 3500 pedigree Simmental cows. This makes Simmental the second beef breed in the country closely followed by Hereford, and quite a bit behind the largest breed which is Limousine with about 7500 cows.

Simmental is very popular for crossbreeding, so if we count the cows with minimum 50 % Simmental blood, we are about 7500. The pedigree cows are spread in about 900 herds, meaning an average number of cows as small as 3.9 per herd. In many herds you would see a few pedigree animals and the rest would be crossbred.

The total number of suckler cows in Denmark is close to 90,000, averaging to just about 15 cows per herd. There are very few farms where sucklers would be the main income.  This is due to the fact that most of our country is arable land, and grass land is only existing

in small spots.  In full time farming, the sucklers would normally be second or third, to milk or pork production, or to arable crops.

A big part of our sucklers stand in part-time, or hobby farms, where the main income is brought home from outside jobs. That is why many of our breeders are known as the dentist, the baker, the vicar etc.  This structure, which I believe is unlike most other countries, also has a large impact on the strategy for breeding and keeping cattle.

AI is very popular in Denmark, and more than half of the Simmental calves born are results of AI. We have a long tradition for using AI on dairy cattle and when the beef breeds arrived to Denmark in the 1960 -70 years, most of them were settled in with people who were used to the AI concept. So it was an easy way to go and it actually made a lot of sense as, in our small herds, the costs of buying and keeping a high quality bull will exceed the value he adds to the herd. Using AI gives access for everybody to use national and international top genetics. A slogan for one of our AI cooperatives was: “The best bulls you find in the deep freeze”!

Fifty years ago we had numerous of these cattle breeding associations, but now they have all merged into one members owned company covering the whole country: VikingDenmark. Together with similar organisations in Sweden and Finland, VikingDenmark owns and runs VikingGenetics. The task of VikingGenetics is general development of everything related to reproduction, and to select bulls and produce semen doses.  VikingDenmark takes care of the practical AI service and the close contact of the customers – who are also the owners. Denmark is a small country, so the distances between our 200 AI technicians are not long. Traditionally the Viking system and the Beef breeding societies have been able to cooperate in a very good way. This means that the selection of AI bulls for pure breeding is handled by the respective breeding society.

As a result of this structure we produce a lot more good bull calves than we need for reproduction, and therefore the price for young bulls is probably the lowest in Europe. We do not have auction sales of breeding cattle at all, with everything being sold directly from farm to farm.

Unfortunately we also have low prices when it comes to selling our beef. A year ago there was a positive trend in prices, so we thought they would rise to a decent level. But then came Covid 19 and stopped all the celebrations and parties where you would normally serve a good beef roast, and restaurants, where a lot of beef steaks would normally have been consumed, were closed down.  Actual carcass price medio November is £2,89 for top quality young bull or heifer and £2,65 for top quality cow. Almost all animals for slaughter are paid for according to weight and EUROP classification of carcass. The prices I mention here are for best weight group and carcass class 12.

This low price, which we have had for too long now, combined with the fact that average age of beef farmers is quite high, will probably cause a major decrease in the number of suckler cows over the next few years. For many of us it’s a hobby, but even beloved hobbies can become too expensive.

The Danish Simmental Society – Dansk Simmental – already registers the decreasing number of breeders, as our members list now holds only 170 names. When it peaked, we came close to 400. The problem is not only that people grow older – we expected that – but after the worldwide financial crisis it has been very difficult for young people to finance the purchase of a small farm and establish their own herds. I do believe that if that were easier, we would still have enough new members coming in to replace the elderly going out.

One of our Society’s main tasks has always been to make sure that there is sufficient high-quality semen available to our members. To take care of that we have a four-person committee, which keeps an eye on figures and animals and come up with suggestions to the main board of the Society, as to which bull to take for AI or which semen to import. As a Society we act with quite a conservative attitude and take in only well proven genetics.  Our philosophy is to not gamble with other people’s (our members’ ) money.  Until a few years ago our performance test station was the key thing in the selection of new bulls. But the running of this became too expensive, so now we look at the figures of working herd bulls. When we find one with good figures, we go out and look at the bull and progeny. This means that nowadays we actually select one proven bull for AI instead of five or six young bulls for test inseminations.

“Temperament, easy calving, polled, growth, and carcase classification – the most important traits for Danish Simmental breeders..”

The things we look for in our next AI bulls are easy calving, growth, good legs and feet and good carcass classification. When we ask our breeders what they find most important, we mostly hear – and  mostly in this ranking: Temperament, easy calving, polled, good growth, and good classification of carcass. Only very few talk about leg quality, but I take it that good legs is seen as a presumption. One thing that is often discussed among breeders is the size of our animals. When we have foreign guests coming to buy animals, they often say that our animals are too big – and then they buy the biggest one they can find.

Showing is to many of our members a big part of having Simmentals. We have quite a few local shows, but the most interesting one is absolutely The National Show in Herning at the beginning of July. Here we have normally 60-70 animals in the ring, and in special years we have had more than 100.  In any case it is worth a visit, when and if the world comes back to normal!

I would like to offer my best congratulations on your Society’s anniversary in 2020!

In Denmark we highly respect the way you have developed the breed since your first imports, and some of your breeding has had a large and persistent impact on ours.

I hope you will be able to celebrate in a proper way in 2021, and if the world is free – and the borders are still open for EU citizens – I hope to join your celebrations with a contingent of Danish breeders