The Gelbvieh (pronounced Gelp-fee) breed is one of the oldest German cattle breeds, first found mainly in three Franconian districts of Bavaria. Starting in 1850, systematic breeding work began in stud herds. Through purebreeding, the “red-yellow Franconian cattle” were developed from several local strains, including Celtic-German Landrace and Heil-Brown Landrace cattle. These local strains have been further improved with intensive breeding work since 1870. This solid-colored breed of red-yellow cattle saw great popularity as draft and slaughter cattle.
Several societies for improved breeding of the cattle were founded. The societies aimed at improvement through standardizing the indigenous breed by selecting the best bulls, purebreeding for a single color and improvement of performance in work fitness and milk production. In 1897, the Breed Society for Yellow Franconia Cattle for Middle and Upper Franconia Cattle in Nurnberg was founded. It was followed by the Breed Society for Gelbvieh in Lower Franconia, based in Wurzburg and founded in 1899.
Since World War II, Germany used a stringent selection program to repopulate its cattle herds. Only three percent of the registered cows were used to produce potential bulls. These cows were selected on structural soundness and conformation.
Bulls from these select cows were performance-tested, and the top half was progeny-tested. The progeny evaluation included gestation length, birth weight, calving ease, growth rate, slaughter weight, carcass quality conformation, udder soundness and fertility and milk production in daughters. Semen was released only from bulls that proved their superiority in progeny testing.
In the 1960’s, Red Danish cattle were included in the herd book to improve milk production. Leness Hall, the director of International Marketing for Carnation Genetics, first saw Gelbvieh cattle in 1969. He worked towards importing Gelbvieh semen to the U.S., and finally was able to bring 43,000 units to America in 1971. In that same year, the American Gelbvieh Association was formed.
Today, there are approximately 45,000 active, registered Gelbvieh cows in the United States and 1,000 active members of the American Gelbvieh Association (AGA). AGA is the largest Gelbvieh association in the world and ranks fifth in number of registered animals among beef breed associations in the United States.
The AGA consists primarily of purebred Gelbvieh (at least 88 percent Gelbvieh) and Balancer® cattle. Balancer is a registered trademark of the AGA for cattle that are Gelbvieh and Angus (black or red) derivatives. Balancer cattle must be minimum 25 percent to maximum 75 percent Gelbvieh. Many AGA members recognize the value of Gelbvieh genetics in a crossbreeding program, thus the AGA provides feasible avenues for members to register those cattle for the purpose of seedstock production.
Gelbvieh cattle are widely recognized for maternal strengths such as fertility, quiet temperament and longevity that all provides the basis for profitability. Gelbvieh cattle also exhibit muscling and growth along with feed efficiency that make Gelbvieh influenced cattle valuable in all aspects of the beef industry.
The historical metamorphosis of Gelbvieh cattle is a testimonial to the adaptation Gelbvieh has made to the ever changing dynamic of providing beef genetics to the industry.