Beef Cattle Breeds
The Limousin cattle breed had its origins between central and south west France. The regions known as Limousin and Marche lie in the west of the Massif Central. Cave drawings in the Lascaux Caves near Montignac, estimated to be 20,000 years old, show cattle bearing a strong resemblance to the Limousin.
The production of animals is the mainstay of the farmers as crop production is very difficult. The climate in the area is harsh and the area quite wet and rugged with poor, rocky soil. Animals living here had to be tough, healthy and adaptable.
The natural isolation of the area resulted in little genetic interference and the Limousin has remained hardy and economic to keep. During its development and, contrary to many French breeds, the Limousin was not housed through winter. Heifers calved at three years old and all calving was outdoors. The Limousin was used as a draught animal and a tractable temperament was important. Daily handling of the cattle made docility and calmness an inherent trait. When its productive life was over, the animal would be fattened and slaughtered.
In an attempt to breed a larger animal with more muscle and flesh, other breeds were introduced during the 1700s and again in the mid 1800s. Agenaise oxen were used over Limousins in 1840. The project was not entirely successful as, although the new breed was larger and beefier, they also needed more nourishment than the region could sustain.
The next step was to try to improve the breed by concentrating on natural selection. Stringent culling and selective methods were used by Charles de Leobary and his herdsman, Royer. This resulted in the development of an outstanding herd of purebred Limousin. By the 1850s, the Limousin was making its mark in carcass competitions.
The first Limousin Herd Book was set up in 1886. The association's aim was to ensure uniformity of the breed. Very rigorous selection criteria were enforced. To showcase the breed, the French government organised shows exclusively for Limousins, bringing the cattle to the attention of many breeders.
A re-organisation of the Herd Book took place in 1923 and again in 1937. The purpose was to make breeders more selective and the Limousin of even higher quality. The emphasis during this period was on retaining the moderate size of the Limousin along with the development of a deep chest, well-fleshed hindquarters and strong topline. The Limousin was now known as the 'butcher's animal' in France and was a highly specialised beef breed.
The Limousin is strong-boned but fine. The head is small and short. The forehead and muzzle are broad and the neck short. Fully grown bulls weigh around 1,000kg and cows about 650kg. The Limousin is an attractive golden-red. The underparts, inside the thighs, around the anus, eyes, muzzle and tip of the tail is a lighter wheaten colour. There is a genetic trait for black which results in light fawn or brown calves. These mature to a deep black although the hairs may be tinged with brown. The base of the horns is yellow and become darker towards the tips. Horns leave the head at a horizontal angle then curve forwards and upwards.
Limousins mature earlier and are smaller than the Charolais. When compared to British and most European breeds, they are moderate in size. The light frame virtually guarantees easy calving. The breed has excellent fertility, passing on good conformation and outstanding productivity. Cows have high conception rates and produce plenty of milk for their calves. High productivity levels are achieved at economical costs.
They produce consistent lean beef and are early maturing. The bone to fat ratio is low with a high yield of saleable meat. The meat quality remains stable regardless of the age at slaughter. Crossbred carcasses have excellent conformation and good, high quality fleshing. Crossbreds show an excellent feed to meat conversion rate and finish faster on marginal land.
The Limousin was not accepted outside of France for some time but it is now a popular breed throughout the globe. It has been crossed with the Brahman to create the Bramousin. The Brahman is a Bos indicus breed which copes very well with hot, humid conditions. It is also very resistant to insects and parasites. The Limousin is now found throughout Europe, in Zimbabwe, South Africa, North and South America and Australia.