Muscle Hypertrophy in Cattle
The Piedmontese cattle breed comes from the region of Piedmont in the alpine region of north-western Italy. This area is a secluded pocket in the natural protection of the Alps.
An ancient European breed, the Aurochs, populated this area some 25,000 years ago. Aurochs had the scientific name of Bos Taurus. Zebu cattle (Bos indicus) migrated west from Pakistan and entered the Piedmont Valley but were unable to progress further. These two breeds fused over thousands of years to become the Piedmontese. The harsh terrain and severe conditions had a strong influence on the evolution of the breed.
In 1886 Italian farmers noticed the appearance of what became known as muscle hyperplasia or double muscling. Breeders were aware that this trait would be profoundly important in years to come in the production of beef. After the opening of the herd book in 1887, selection has been directed towards the elimination of the negative aspects of double muscling.
Piedmontese cattle are one of three breeds which exhibit a degree of 'double-muscling'. The others are the Belgian Blue and the Parthenais. Together they could be called the 'incredible hulks' of the bovine world.
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Double muscling is caused by an inherited factor whereby production of the protein, myostatin, is repressed. This allows extreme muscular development to take place. Double muscling affects an animal in several ways. The fat content is reduced resulting in less marbling and leaner meat. The composition of the fat is altered resulting in a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fats and a tenderer product. The high rib eye muscle area is a celebrated aspect of the breed. Bones are finer and less dense resulting in better beef to bone ratios. Although beef is a premium product from the breed, traditional cheeses are made from the milk.
The meat is of high quality, lean and very tender, with low cholesterol levels. Dressing out rates are high. Piedmontese are highly regarded as terminal sires.
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The Piedmontese is born a fawn colour and turns grey-white as it ages. The muzzle, ears, hooves and tassle are sometimes black. It is a medium size breed with mature cows weighing in the vicinity of 550kgs. The breed is fine-boned and thin-skinned. They calve easily, especially when crossed with other breeds and have excellent fertility. They adapt well to varying climatic conditions and have docile temperaments. Feed conversion is efficient and the cows are good mothers with a generous milk yield. The breed also has strong hybrid vigour.
Piedmontese have compact, broad and muscular shoulders. The neck is broad and muscular with a medium-sized light dewlap. The head is expressive with prominent bony arches over the eyes which are big with a lively expression. The nose is broad and straight with wide nostrils. The chest is full and muscular and the abdomen well arched and long. The sides are deep. The thighs are wide and really muscular in the males and the buttocks wide and long.
At two years old, males should measure 125cm at the withers and 135cm at four years. Weight at 2 years should be 650kgs and 850kg at 4 years.
Today the Piedmontese is found in South America, Italy, Denmark, Australia, Canada, Holland, Poland, New Zealand, Great Britain and Mexico.