The Oberhasli dairy goat, originally from the Oberhasli-Brienzer Alps in Switzerland, is a special breed, notable for its unique color pattern, medium to dark red bay with jet black markings in bucks and does. The reddish bay color of the Oberhasli is associated with a recessive gene for coal or blue-black, and as a result, females born this color are also allowed into the breed registry with the American Dairy Goat Association.
The typical temperament of the Oberhasli is alert and inquisitive, yet calm and quiet with seemingly high intelligence. This “look” is enhanced with lovely expressive eyes in a dished or straight face, and short to medium-sized erect ears. Though recognized as one of the smaller framed, standard size breeds, Oberhasli are very good producers, averaging over 2,000 pounds of milk per 305 test day lactation, hovering around a four percent butterfat average. The all-time, top-producing Oberhasli doe, as noted by the Dairy Herd Improvement Registry program with the ADGA was SGCH Catoico Summer Storm, from Texas, who in 1997 produced 4,665 pounds of milk in 304 days of lactation and 234 pounds of butterfat, or 5.0 percent. The DHIR breed leader for 2007, according to information from the American Dairy Goat Association, was SG Eden-Hill STAC Tayberry, from Oregon, who produced 3,980 pounds of milk in 305 lactation days.
It is doubtful that there ever would have been an Oberhasli breed leader today in the United States, or even a recognized Oberhasli breed registry, had it not been for the fierce determination and unflagging enthusiasm of an original core group of breeders who organized the Oberhasli Breeders Association (OBA) in 1976. They were determined that this uniquely beautiful breed would not just disappear into a general Swiss breed designation, or be lumped into the Alpine registry. After all, this had happened before, in 1906 and in 1920, when importations of purebred Swiss Alpines (as Oberhasli were then called) and their descendants were not kept pure and disappeared into the general goat population.
SG Sir Echo Moon, shown by Danielle Midstokke at the 2008 Orange County Fair in California, is a prime example of the modern Oberhasli…a beautiful, correct doe with lots of milk production. Photo courtesy of Sandy Van Echo, Sir Echo Farms, Arizona, www.kelpies.us/sirecho.
In 1936, Dr. H.O. Pence, Kansas City, Missouri, implemented another importation of purebred Oberhasli dairy goats from Switzerland. These Pence imports (and their offspring) are the backbone of all Oberhasli in the United States. Without those imports (and those who saved them and preserved the pure genetics of the breed), the breed would not be where it is today.
However, an original problem in recording and registering these imports remained. Instead of getting a separate herd book, all the Oberhasli that were imported into the U.S. at that time were called Swiss Alpines and lumped into the Alpine registry.
Every time a purebred Swiss Alpine was bred to a French or American Alpine, the resulting progeny were called American Alpines and became part of the Alpine goat population. Many Alpine breeders were enthusiastic about these crosses as they produced some outstanding progeny. Today some chamoisee American Alpines can still trace back generations to find Oberhasli roots.
This was beneficial to the American Alpine lines that were created, but it left the Oberhasli with nowhere to go. At that time, Esther Oman of the Santa Rosa area in California was alone but adamant in keeping her small herd of purebred Oberhasli pure. Oman was a purist who abhorred the idea of cross-breeding a purebred. And thanks to that unwavering belief, the purebred Oberhasli still exists today. She did not have the necessary number of purebreds nor the support of a breed club or the ADGA to improve the breed entirely by herself.
It was by coincidence that the three founding members of the OBA found each other at that time. Judy Stuckey Marshall, of Cumberland, Virginia had been working with the Swiss Alpines for many years, as had Lib Zabriskie of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Out in Harvard, Illinois, Dorothea Custer had just discovered that the two gorgeous red yearling does she had purchased were Swiss Alpines.
The three began corresponding and exchanging photos of their Swiss Alpines. The germ of an idea began—they would form an organization to promote this orphan breed and attempt to get official recognition if it was possible. Marshall had been corresponding with Oman, who was in ill health in California. In fact, when she was in the hospital for the final time she made arrangements with Marshall for her beloved Oberhasli to go to the group of breeders in the East who were committed to work for the survival of the breed.
Very soon after that last correspondence, Oman died, and Marshall and Lib Zabriskie’s daughter immediately left for California where they picked up the remaining animals from her purebred herd and dispensed them to selected breeders in the East who pledged to carry on with the breed.
Years of work followed during which the members of the OBA publicized the breed through goat publications, gathered support from those interested, started a monthly newsletter, petitioned ADGA for the correct name, Oberhasli, and finally in 1979 the major objective was accomplished, the ADGA board of directors voted to give the Oberhasli its own herdbooks. The following year, the board voted to retrieve all American and part Oberhasli animals from the Alpine and other herdbooks. The Swiss Alpine title ceased to exist and the Oberhasli breed registry was born.
Ober-Boerd dairy goats exhibited the best three junior does at the 2007 ADGA National Show in Gillette, Wyoming. Laila, Jayda, and Gabriella (left to right), are bred and owned by the Schnipke family of Pandora, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Kirt Schnipke, http://ober_boerd.tripod.com/index.html
It has been almost 30 years since that major goal was reached. In that time there has been a rapid and phenomenal genetic progression of the breed. Through selective breeding Oberhasli breeders have done a great job of maintaining the attractive appearance of their breed while introducing more size, correctness in structure and strength of mammary. Rigorous culling and breeding for quality has resulted in their exquisite beauty, excellent production and show records. There are many Oberhasli (and their breeders) who have made notable contributions in the history of the breed, including Body-Shops 21 Cherry Pie (bred by Karyl Dronen, Minnesota), an Oberhasli doe who broke boundaries and became the trend-setter for the breed. A five-time ADGA National Show Champion (a record amount for any breed!), she was the one who started to show people that this breed could be competitive in the ring.
There have been several Oberhasli breeders who in recent years have created a dynasty of outstanding Oberhasli genetics. Dave and Peg Daubert, Minnesota, have had many ADGA national show wins with their renowned Tonka-Tails Oberhasli, starting with Cherry Angel Cake, and following with the likes of Blueberry Dumpling, Divinity, Kendall Rae, and more recently, Victoria Ann, all name recognizable does in the industry. The Dauberts also bred one of the most widely used Oberhasli bucks of all time, ++*B SGCH Tonka-Tails Court Jester. Many Oberhasli pedigrees tout this buck by lineage, along with some other prominent old and well-known Oberhasli bucks like Lyme-Kiln Hans Michael and Perfection Little Red.
Another doe with a lot of influence on the Oberhasli breed was Desity Farm Souvenir, a two-time ADGA reserve national champion and the back-bone behind the herd, FDF-Pleasant-Fields. The FDF herd was very consistent in their style and appearance. Farrell and Debbie Fields, Ohio, accomplished a lot in a short amount of time and many foundation does go back to this herd.
There are many wonderful Oberhasli does and bucks that have contributed to the breed as it is recognized today, with continually higher Linear Appraisal scores, higher DHI records, and many Best In Show awards. While many top breeders have contributed to this rise, it is likely that the best is yet to come as people continue to be attracted to the unique style, color, personality and preferred milk flavor of the Oberhasli dairy goat.
According to the 2007 ADGA annual report, 1,795 American and purebred Oberhasli were registered in that year, and 920 animals were transferred. While these numbers keep the breed on the Rare and Endangered Species list kept by the Small Animal Conservancy, they are increasing each year and the Oberhasli breed is represented more and more in all parts of the country.
With contributions from Ruth McCormick, Kirt Schnipke, and Dairy Goats For Pleasure and Profit by Harvey Considine.