Charolais cattle aren't just the second-most prevalent cattle in France after Holsteins; they are one of the oldest French cattle breeds. They also lay claim to significant impact on the beef industry and production processes in North America, while also being second in the country.
But how did they get here in the first place?
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Where Does The Charolais Breed Come From?
Charolais cattle hail from west-central to southeastern France in the Charolles and Nievre provinces. The cattle are named for the Charolles province, where they were first reared before spreading to Nievre and other parts of the world.
The white cattle of France are believed to have been developed from cattle in the Charolles region through native cattle bred with some Shorthorn influence.
Legends have it that white cattle were present in the region as early as 878 AD, but Charolais cattle are mostly believed to have been developed in the 16th and 17th centuries.
French cattlemen have always selected cattle for size, muscling, power, and rapid growth—these characteristics featured in Charolais cattle, which the French used for meat, draft, and milk.
After a long period of concentration in the Charolles province, Charolais cattle found their way to the Nievre province in 1773 after the French Revolution. Claude Mathieu brought his herd of Charolais cattle to Nievre, where they thrived and became known as Nivernais cattle.
In 1840, Count Charles de Bouille established an influential Charolais herd in Charolles, with which he practiced selective breeding and later founded the first Charolais herd book in 1864.
In 1882, other cattle breeders in Charolles also started a herd book. The two herd management organizations were harmonized into one in 1919.
It wasn’t after the First and Second World Wars that Charolais cows and bulls found their way to other parts of the world from their native France.
Jean Pugibet, a Mexican industrialist and cattle rancher, brought the first French cattle to Mexico shortly after the end of the First World War.
The first Charolais cattle brought to the US in 1934 came from Mexico and bred rapidly as cattlemen fell in love with Charolais bulls and cows for their large size, muscling, and consistent conformation.
The American Charbray Breeders Association and the American Charolais Breeders Association were established in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Another Charolais organization, the International Charolais Association, was established by livestock farmers who used cows of other beef breeds to make Charolais cattle through successive generations of compounded Charolais blood.
The American Charolais Breeders Association and the International Charolais Association merged in 1957 to form the American-International Charolais Association (AICA).
The Pan-American Charolais Association that registered its white cattle by performance instead of Charolais genetic content joined the AICA in 1964.
In 1967, all the Charolais-based breeds in the US came under one comprehensive breed registry when the American Charbray Breeders Association joined hands with the AICA.
Importations from France brought Charolais cattle to other countries such as Canada, the USA (1934), Brazil (1950), Argentina (1955), South Africa (1955), the UK, and Australia (pure French semen imported in 1969).
The Charolais breed is now present in over 68 countries worldwide, with Mexico and the Czech Republic having some of the highest heads of the breed.
Charolais Breed Characteristics
The Charolais breed exhibits the following characteristics:
|Official Breed Name||Charolais|
|Appearance||White color or cream-white coloring|
Some Charolais cattle are red or black due to crossbreeding
Short, broad head
Pink muzzle and pale hooves
Horns (some are genetically polled)
|Calf Weight||92 pounds heifers|
100 pounds bulls
|Mature Cow Weight||1,500-2,600 pounds|
|Mature Cow Height||53-57 inches|
|Mature Bull Weight||2,200-3,600 pounds|
|Mature Bull Height||53-57 inches|
|Ready To Breed||2 years|
|Gestation Period||9 months|
|First Calvings||2 years and 9 months|
|Time to Slaughter||2 years|
|Carcass Weight||850 pounds|
|Expected Lifespan||15-20 years|
|Productive Lifespan||8 to 9 years|
|Known For||Excellent maternal instincts|
Good temperament (bulls can be aggressive)
Adaptability to feeding systems, either intensive or grass-based
Long reproductive years for bulls (up to 8 or 9 years before retiring)
Lean carcasses with high-quality meat
Long, heavily muscled body
Excellent natural weight gain for their age (efficient feedlot conversion)
|Weaknesses||Relative late maturity, although they grow rapidly|
Higher than average feed demands
|Climate||Hardiness in all climates|
What Is So Special About Charolais Cattle?
Charolais cattle are known for their muscularity, a crucial feature for breeders or farmers raising cattle for meat. Charolais are kept as beef cattle rather than dairy cows because their milk production is not as impressive as that of other breeds of cattle.
Charolais cows and bulls are also famed for their excellent growth capabilities, even though they are relatively late maturing. This growth ability is attributable to their high efficiency at converting feed to live weight.
Besides the muscularity and excellent growth capacity, Charolais cattle are also known for their exceptional ability as an all-purpose crossbreeding animal to improve other cattle breeds.
Purebred Charolais cattle are bred with other breeds of cattle to enhance the growth, muscularity, ruggedness, and size of other animals. They are used to produce hybrids such as:
- CharBray (Charolais x Brahman)
- Brazilian Canchim (Charolais x Indu-Brazil)
- Charford (Charolais x Hereford) – US
- Char-Swiss (Charolais x Brown Swiss) – US
- Chargrey (Charolais x Murray Grey) – Australia
- Wokalup (Charolais x Brahman bulls mated with Friesian x Hereford or Angus cows) – Australia
- Mandalong Special ( Charolais, British White, Chianina, Brahman, and polled Shorthorn) – Australia
Why Should I Raise Charolais Cattle On My Farm?
You’ll want to raise Charolais cattle on your farm because of the reasons below:
- Charolais cattle are highly adaptive in all climates, owing to their white color, which helps makes them heat tolerant because the light color reflects rays of the sun.
- The coat enhances the hardiness of Chalorais cattle in different climates. In winter, the cattle have long and thick coats, while the coats are sleeker and shorter in summer.
- You can make decent money selling the high-quality beef of fast-growing, low-maintenance Chalorais steers and bulls.
- You can also make money using Charolais bulls for artificial insemination to crossbreed them with other breeds of cattle for other farmers seeking herd improvement. A healthy bull can serve cows for up to 8-9 years before retiring.
- The rugged hooves of Chalorais cattle enable them to tackle rough terrains, a useful quality if your farm’s terrain is rocky/mountainous and you raise your cows on the range.