Normande cattle shine at national show

Jan Shepel

            Dairy and beef producers who love French Normande cattle gathered in Mineral Point on Saturday (Oct.1) for the breed’s annual show sponsored by the North American Normande Association (NANA.)
            A Wisconsin family with the largest registered Normande dairy herd in the country topped the breed show with their three-year-old in milk Rudan Singleton PAN Precious 370 which is 50-percent Normande genetics. She was named Grand Champion.
            Dan and Ruth Vosberg and their children operate a dairy farm in South Wayne, WI.  As they were growing their dairy farm they experimented with various crossbreeding programs on Holsteins and Jersey dairy cows. They eventually tried Normande and found exactly what they were looking for.
            They love the way the cattle graze and convert grain into milk and meat. Dan says they also like the fact that the cull cows and bull calves bring something resembling beef prices rather than dairy prices.
            Reserve champion at the show was Howling-Oaks M Aurora, a five-year-old cow that is 75-percent Normande genetics, shown by William Knebel and Rhonda Treml-Knebel of Sherry, WI.
            The breed show features a beef judge and a dairy judge and classes alternate between the two strains of the Normande. Dan Vosberg explains that in France the breed is considered to be truly dual purpose but breeders here have chosen to go with either beefier bloodlines or more dairy; the show reflects that.
            “That’s really nice here at the show that the classes alternate between beef and dairy. It allows us to get ready for our next class,” he added. His family has only the dairy genetics and that’s what they show.
            The NANA event was to have included representatives from Colombia, a nation with a great many Normande cattle. (The delegation was to have been only people and not cattle.) Organizers moved their annual show to a date closer to World Dairy Expo, so the travelers would be able to take in both events.
            But concerns over the Zika virus prevented the Colombians from attending.
Reserve Champion owner and exhibitor Treml-Knebel has been very involved in the breed for years and now, as secretary of the breed association, she will be one of the point people involved in making French Normande genetics available here in the United States.
            Previously, semen from French bulls was only available through one representative. Now a change has been made that will allow NANA through Normand-E Genetic Solutions, to take over the importation of the genetics from France. The French genetics company that will be working with NANA is called Evolution International.
            Colombia has a large number of Normande cattle and that country’s breed association has been the agent for genetics going into that South American country for many years, Treml-Knebel explained. “It’s new for the United States but we’re going to do it the way Colombia does it.”

Milk qualities

She explains that Normande is the oldest registered dairy breed in the world and that certain cheeses in France – Camembert and Brie -- are required to be made from the milk of Normande cows. “They don’t give as much milk as Holsteins but they are great grain converters and their components are much higher. It’s optimal for cheesemaking with averages of 4.3 percent fat and protein at 3.9 percent,” she said. She had a cow that averaged 7 percent butterfat.
            The milk from Normande cows is also predominantly A2A2 or “non-A1”, she said, which may in the future become another niche market for the dairy industry
            Not all French Normande bulls are cleared to be shipped to the United States but 15 will be offered now and there may be as many as 20 in the future, she said. No live animals can be imported from France because of health restrictions; the same is true of the cattle in Colombia.
            Colombia’s Normandes are locked in to that South American country because of restrictions from foot and mouth disease.
Treml-Knebel explains that the first Normande genetics came into the United States in the early 1970s with semen only. Then embryos were allowed. But importation of any genetics was interrupted by the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) in Europe.
            It took a while for the import channels to open again and when they did, only a handful of bulls met U.S. requirements.

Breed aficionado

            Treml-Knebel who says she has been “a Holstein girl all my life” first fell in love with the chunky Normandes when she went on a road trip with friend Barb Wogsland who was buying a “50-percenter” – a half-blood Normande from a breeder. Treml-Knebel ended up buying three of the animals herself -- she was so taken with them.
            In France the breed is truly dual purpose, she said. Farmers milk the cows for six years and then turn them into beef animals. She visited France in 2007 and found that in Paris the top beef in fancy restaurants is Normande. Even at McDonald’s restaurants Normande is a featured beef. “You can tell the difference in the quality,” she said.
            The breed is known for its ability to gain on grass and very little grain and keep good flesh on their bodies even when they are milking. Breeders in this country have taken the Normande down a two-way road, with some pursuing their use as beef cattle and others using them for crossbreeding in dairy herds.
            Normandes are making a name for themselves in Midwest beef herds. After a recent rate-of-gain bull test at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, a Normande-influenced bull topped the sale, she said.
            At the end of last weekend’s national show in Mineral Point, four “100-percenters” were shown to spectators. These animals, including one bull, possess only Normande blood and are highly sought after among breed aficionados. The bull is going into an AI company soon.
            “There’s a lot of interest in sending this breed to China and they want them sired by 100-percenters born in the United States,” she said.
            Treml-Knebel said dairy farmers often use Normande semen on Jersey or Jersey-Holstein crossbreds. Crossbreeding with Red-and-White Holsteins is also very popular.
            “There are a lot of options. They are really good on feet and leg improvement,” she said.
Reasons to crossbreed with Normande genetics, she said, include top cheese yields and fat value from the milk, bull calves and cull cows that have outstanding value, health traits, extreme docility and an ideal grazing disposition.
She suggested that Normande crossbreeding is also a good way for dairy farmers to perhaps transition out of dairy as they could milk the cows until they need to change their careers to beef and provide income to the farm all the while.

Essay contest winner

Courtney Jenkins, 15, is a new convert to the breed. A member of the Pleasant Hope FFA chapter, she came from Bolivar, MO to the NANA show to claim a registered dairy heifer named “Dakota” that she won in an essay contest.
            Her parents, Ricky and Jamey Jenkins, have a 60-cow Holstein dairy and a 300-cow Gelvbieh-influenced herd of beef cows. Courtney said she plans to integrate her new dairy heifer into the family farm’s heifer program and already showed her at the Mineral Point event.
            “I’ll be promoting the breed in the southwest Missouri area where there are no Normandes,” she said. After the show the new Normande owner was set to attend World Dairy Expo where she was participating in dairy cattle judging.
            For more information on the breed, visit the website
            To contact Treml-Knebel about Normande genetics, email at or call her at 715-305-2843.

Courtney Jenkins, a member of the Pleasant Hope FFA chapter, came from Bolivar, MO to the North American Normande Association’s national show in Mineral Point to claim a registered Normande dairy heifer that she won in an essay contest. Each year breeders donate a heifer to promote the breed.
Dan Vosberg, left, showed his family’s three-year-old Normande cow Rudan Singleton PAN Precious 370, to Grand Champion at the North American Normande Association’s national show in Mineral Point on Oct. 1. Reserve Champion, right, was Howling-Oaks M Aurora, a five-year-old cow shown by Rhonda Treml-Knebel.