The Charolais originated in west-central to southeastern France, in the old French provinces of Charolles and neighboring Nievre. The exact origins of the Charolais are not known but it must have been developed from cattle found in the area. Legend has it that white cattle were first noticed in the region as early as 878 A.D., and by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were popular in French markets, especially at Lyon and Villefranche. Selection developed a white breed of cattle which, like other cattle of continental Europe, were used for draft, milk and meat.
The cattle were generally confined to the area in which they originated until the French Revolution. But, in 1773, Claude Mathieu, a farmer and cattle producers from the Charolles region, moved to the Nievre province, taking his herd of white cattle with him. The breed flourished there, so much so that the improved cattle were known more widely as Nivemais cattle for a time than by their original name of Charolais.
One of the early influential herds in the region was started in 1840 by the Count Charles de Bouille. His selective breeding led him to set up a herd book in 1864 for the breed at Villars near the village of Magny-Cours. Breeders in the Charolles vicinity established a herd book in 1882.
The two societies merged in 1919, with the older organisation holding the records of the later group into their headquarters at Nevers, the capital of the Nievre province.
The French have long selected their cattle for size and muscling. They selected for bone and power to a greater extent than was true in the British Isles. The French breeders stressed rapid growth in addition to cattle that would ultimately reach a large size. These were men that wanted cattle that not only grew out well but could be depended upon for draft power. Little attention was paid to refinement, but great stress was laid on utility.
It was only after the second world war that Charolais made its appearance in other parts of the world. At first small exports, such as four bulls and six females to Brazil in 1950; five bulls and eleven females to Argentina in 1955; one bull and three cows to South Africa in 1955 followed by three bulls and 15 females in 1956, took place. This small trickle developed into a big stream. In 1964 for instance 259 bulls and 1,605 cows were exported from France and this trend is still increasing.
The typical Charolais is white in colour with a pink muzzle and pale hooves, horned, long bodied, and good milkers with a general coarseness to the animal not being uncommon. There are now Charolais cattle being bred black and red in colour.
Charolais are medium to large framed beef cattle with a very deep and broad body. They have a short, broad head and heavily muscled loins and haunches. Charolais have demonstrated growth ability, efficient feedlot gains and in carcass cut-out values. With excellent meat conformation, especially of the valuable parts and relative late maturity they are well suited to fattening for high finished weight. They are well suited to all purpose cross breeding.
Charolais are good for growth and uniformity
They have superior natural liveweight gain for age
Tremendous muscling and conformity
Easy to manage in terms of temperament
Ease of calving
The ability to fit into any system – grass based or intensive
Charolais delivers a distinct colour code, Charolais cross calves have dominant colour markings which provides a guarantee of their parentage
Comparrison of Charolais and Limousin as terminal cross sire breeds by Oklahoma State University
From New Zealand, comes Manawatu Beef Packers data: This shows Charolais cross animals excel for carcass weight, meat colour and pH and are among the best for dressing out % fat depth and fat colour.
Table One: Carcass and meat quality characteristics of steers processed at Manawatu Beef Packers
Table Two: Growth and carcass attributes of some beef cattle breeds (P. Amer et al. Canadian Journal of Animal Science)
Today Charolais cattle can be found in any cattle producing country