The Charolais cattle breed take its name from the French province of Charolles, where it originated many centuries ago. These distinctive white cows gain weight easily and are used worldwide for beef production.
Origins of Charolais Cattle
There are reports that white cattle, similar to the Charolais breed, were present in the French province of Charolles as far back as the ninth century. They’ve lived in the neighboring province of Nievre for a similar length of time. By the 17th century, these easily recognizable, white cattle were regularly traded at markets in Lyon and Villefranche. In 1773, farmer Claude Mathieu moved his herd of white cattle to the Nievre province. The breed did well in the new province and were even known as Nivemais cattle for a period of time.
The breed’s first herd book was created in 1864 by Count Charles de Bouille, who bred cattle selectively in the Nievre region. A separate book was created in 1882 by breeders in the Charolles region. The two societies merged in 1919.
The French used Charolais cattle not only as a source of milk and meat, but also to pull farm equipment. Because the cattle were used for draft power on farms, the breed developed large bones and powerful muscles, and were valued for their strength. Although the cattle are no longer typically used for draft power, their large muscles also make them very suitable for beef production.
Spread of Charolais Cattle Around the World
Charolais cattle didn’t leave France until the end of World War II. During the 1950s, a small selection of cows and bulls were exported to Brazil, Argentina and South Africa, providing the breed’s first foothold in these countries. Larger numbers of cattle followed in the 1960s. Since that time, Charolais cattle have been exported all over the world, with breeding colonies set up in beef-producing nations as far away as New Zealand.
Characteristics of Charolais Cattle
Charolais cattle are traditionally white, but some breeders have developed black and red variations. The cattle have pink muzzles and small horns.
Charolais cattle are easily recognizable by their shape and coloring. They have short heads, muscular frames, pale hooves and long, broad bodies. The cattle gain weight very easily. Adding muscle quickly results in high-quality beef.
Charolais cows calve easily and have an easy-to-manage temperament. They can be raised on a traditional grass-based farm or in a more intensive environment. Charolais cattle are a versatile beef producers, and the breed is used for meat in many parts of the world. The cattle also well-suited for milking.
Hybrid Charolais Cattle
Charolais cattle can be successfully cross-bred with other types of cattle, such as Limousin cattle, another European breed. The hybrid offspring that result from Charolais cross breeding usually have distinctive color patterns, which make their parentage easy to identify.
Charolais Cattle Compared to Other Breeds
Charolais cattle grow more quickly than other breeds, with a post-weaning growth of 1.326 kg per day, compared to only 1.192 kg per day for Simmental cattle. Limousin cattle gain only 1.115 kg per day. The Charolais’ feed conversion efficiency is only slightly lower than these other breeds, and they typically put on less fat.
Find Out More About Charolais Cattle
There’s a wealth of information available about Charolais cattle, including information about how to care for the breed. If you have questions about this traditional French breed of cattle, fill out the form to request more information.