Beef Cattle Breeds
The Charolais (Bos taurus) is one of the oldest of the French cattle breeds. It originated around Charolles in Central France in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Lyon and Villegranche markets were the main depots for Charolais beef which was highly regarded for its quality. It seems likely that the white cattle were in the area as early as 878AD. They did not disperse until after the French Revolution. In those days cattle were multi-purpose, functioning as draft animals for agricultural and transport services as well as supplying meat and milk.
In 1773, a herd of Charolais were taken to Nievre, becoming recognised as Nivernais cattle rather than as Charolais. In 1840, selective breeding techniques had a huge influence on the Charolais in the Villars region. This was due to Count Charles do Bouile. In 1864 he set up a herd book. Charolles breeders then set up their own herd book some 18 years later. In 1919 the groups merged and records were then kept at Nevers. French breeders were looking for size and muscle. If cattle were to be useful for draft purposes, they needed both attributes (size and muscle), plus good bone.
Soon after the First World War, Jean Pugibet imported Charolais to his Mexican ranch. He had come to know the breed while serving as a volunteer in the French Army. He imported 37 animals in 1937 but died soon after. In 1936, the King Ranch in Texas imported two Charolais bulls, Neptune and Ortolan, from Pugibet's herd into the United States. However an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Mexico in the mid 40s resulted in a quarantine system being set up against the importation of any cattle from a country which was subject to foot and mouth. In 1965 Canada imposed strict quarantine laws in both France and Canada. This led to importations of French Charolais again being permitted.
At the time, breeders were seeking a heavier animal with a larger frame than that provided by traditional British breeds such as the Hereford and Angus. The Charolais were good walkers, undeterred by extremes of weather and capable of rearing heavy calves. They had a significant impact on the beef industry of North America.
Semen was imported into Australia from the United Kingdom and the Charolais has become very popular there. The Australian herd book now has over 19,000 registered breeding females. There were also live imports from New Zealand in 1969, and later from Canada and France. Because of careful selection, top performances have been achieved by Charolais and Charolais crossbreds. The breed has adapted exceptionally well to local conditions and has proved its worth as a commercial proposition as well as in the show ring and at stud.
Prominent carcass competitions have been dominated by Charolais entries of consistent, uniform carcasses of high quality. In the 70s, Charolais crossbred steers were successful in a number of prominent steer and carcass shows. The breed has shown excellent growth rates under a variety of management systems from intensive feedlots to range situations. They have a superior weight-for-age rate compared to many other breeds. They are suited to producing a high finished weight as they are relatively late maturing. Cut out rates are excellent. The breed is in high demand for cross-breeding programs and in southern United States, Charolais and crossbreds have increasingly replaced Herefords.
The Charolais is quiet and easy to manage. They are generally white or a creamy white. Red and black animals are now also being produced. White Charolais have pink muzzles and pale hooves. The skin may be pigmented. They have a longish, thick coat in winter but the summer coat is short. They are a horned breed but as they are crossed more and more with naturally polled breeds, there are more polled animals appearing.
They have a medium to large frame and are well-balanced. The body is long and deep with heavily muscled loins and haunches. There should be sufficient angle in the shoulders to enable smooth, free action. The legs should be squarely set with sound joints of good substance. Animals with sickle hocks, knock knees and/or bow legs cannot travel the distances necessary to make best use of available feed and water.
The head is broad and short. Mature bulls weigh between 2,000 and 2,500 pounds and cows from 1,250 to 2,000 pounds. The hindquarters are broad with good width between the hipbones. The tail should not be set too high.
The Charolais has demonstrated excellent growth rates whether in an intensive feedlot system or a grass-based range situation. Weight-for-age rates are superior to many other breeds. They are relatively late maturing so are suited to fattening to a high finished weight. Cut out rates are excellent and they make good contributors to cross breeding programs.
The Charolais is known for its composite qualities when crossed with other breeds such as the Angus and Hereford. In Australia, the Charolais/Brahman cross is now a breed in its own right – the Charbray. Proportions must be within the range of 25% and 75% with either breed predominating. The hump of the Brahman is almost non-existent but the Bos indicus blood is evident in the loose skin and enlarged dewlap.