Oberhasli Breeders of America
The history of the Oberhasli breed and that of the Oberhasli Breeders of America are intertwined. Past OBA President Ruth McCormick wrote the following for the annual Oberhasli issue of United Caprine News, July 2000. An edited version is reprinted here with both the permission of the author and the UCN editor.
Among the breed clubs that support and promote the six dairy breeds officially recognized by ADGA, the Oberhasli Breeders of America is unique. It has the distinction of being the only one formed before there was a recognized breed to support.
It is doubtful that there would be an Oberhasli breed today in the United States had it not been for the fierce determination and unflagging enthusiasm of the original core group of breeders who organized the OBA in 1976. They were determined that this uniquely beautiful breed with red bay color and striking jet black markings, would not disappear.
After all, it had happened before – in 1906 and in 1920 – the importations of purebred Swiss Alpines (as the Oberhasli were then called) and their descendants were not kept pure and disappeared into the general goat population.
There was another importation in 1936 by Dr. H.O. Pence of Kansas City, MO and it is from this group of animals that all our present day Oberhasli descend. But the problem remained the same. Instead of getting a separate herd book, all the Oberhasli that were imported into the U.S. 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 of the chamoisee American Alpines can trace back many 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. Esther was a purist, of the old school, who abhorred the idea of cross-breeding a purebred. And thanks to that unwavering belief, the purebred Oberhasli still exists today. Esther simply did not have the necessary number of purebreds nor the support of a breed club or ADGA to improve the breed entirely by herself.
Without herdbooks of their own, it is almost certain that the remaining purebreds would have been absorbed into the Alpine goat population, a place they never belonged.
It was by coincidence that the three founding members of the OBA found each other. Judy Stuckey Marshall, of Cumberland VA had been working with the Swiss Alpines for many years, as had Lib Zabriskie of Harper’s Ferry , WV. Out in Harvard, IL, 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. Judy had been corresponding with Esther Oman in California who was in ill health. In fact, while Esther was in the hospital for the final time she made arrangements with Judy for her beloved Swiss Alpines 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, Esther died, and Judy and Lib Zabriskie’s daughter immediately left for California where they picked up the remaining animals from Esther’s herd and dispensed them to selected breeders in the East who pledged to carry on with the breed.
Years and years of work followed – publicizing the breed through the goat publications, gathering support from those who were interested, starting a monthly newsletter, petitioning 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.
It has been 20 years since that major goal was reached. Although 20 years may seem a long time, it is not long in the genetic progression of a breed. In the other long-established dairy breeds, we still see improvement year after year. In the Oberhasli breed it has been rapid and phenomenal.
It was said years ago that the Oberhasli was inbred and weak. That was certainly true in same cases, especially when the purebred numbers were so low that some breeders felt they had to keep and breed every Oberhasli that was purebred. That thinking has completely changed. The breeders today who prefer to keep a purebred herd are just as demanding of their purebred animals as they are of their Americans. They are rigorous in their culling and selecting and the quality has improved dramatically.
The official opinion of the OBA in the early years was that the American upgrading programs in herds throughout the country would save and improve the breed. That was largely true. By using superior animals of other breeds, notably chamoisee Alpines, the resulting offspring benefited from hybrid vigor. The many successful American Oberhasli breeding programs offer a wide gene pool to Oberhasli breeders today.
The difficult part of this upgrading to American is to maintain the unique Oberhasli breed traits – the distinctive shorter, wider head with smaller ears than the Alpine, the distinct body type – wider, perhaps shorter in stature and the gentle, calm and quiet disposition, and of course – the unique red bay color. The early breeders, and some still today who are crossing with other breeds, spend many disciplined years in upgrading. An American Oberhasli doe must be upgraded for three unbroken generations of correct breed type and color (no exceptions!) and be 87.5 percent pure. One more generation is required for a buck.
Another breed trait that has not been widely publicized is the very fine milk produced by the Oberhasli. Although not particularly high in butterfat, Oberhasli milk has a sweet, fine-flavored taste.
The breed has made dramatic improvement in conformation. In 1990 it was a notable achievement when the first-ever Oberhasli doe was linear appraised with a final score of 90. Today many Oberhasli does have attained that same high achievement.
The famous Perfection Little Red, purebred Oberhasli buck, has long been a source of pride to the breed. Before the Oberhasli had a separate herd books, Little Red was shown as a Swiss Alpine in California competition against some of the finest Alpine bucks. He won his permanent championship and went on in one show to be Best Buck in Show. Today we have Oberhasli bucks that compete both in Oberhasli classes and in AOP [All Other Purebreds] classes to become champions. Many Oberhasli bucks have been judged Best Buck in Show throughout the country.
Milk production has improved even more dramatically. The 1981 ADGA yearbook (Vol 27) with records from 1980, listed the Oberhasli breed for the first time. There were five does listed on the Top Ten list – the top producer gave 1,702 lbs of milk and the fifth place gave 1,371 lbs.Records improve every year. For instance, the Breed Leader in 1997 produced 4,665 lbs and Nos. 9 & 10 tied with 2,770 lbs. Six other does on the list were over 3,000 lbs. In 1998, Performance Leaders started with 3,850 lbs and Nos. 9 & 10 tied with 2,730 lbs. Six of the Top Ten does were over 3,000 lbs.
In the 24 years the Oberhasli Breeders of America have been in existence, we have had our ups and downs like any organization. Today we are on an upswing with many friendly, helpful, enthusiastic members.