Origins of the Breed
The exact origins of the Charolais are lost
to us 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 well and favorably known in French markets, especially at Lyon
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 organization 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
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.
The Charolais of France are white in color,
horned, long bodied, and good milkers with a general coarseness
to the animal not being uncommon.
Introduction to the United States
Soon after the First World War, a young Mexican
industrialist of French name and ancestry, Jean Pugibet, brought
some of the French cattle to his ranch in Mexico. He had seen the
Charolais cattle during World War I while serving as a French army
volunteer and was impressed by their appearance and productivity.
He arranged for a shipment of two bulls and
10 heifers to Mexico in 1930. Two later shipments in 1931 and 1937
increased the total number to 37 - eight bulls and 29 females. Not
long after the last shipment, Pugibet died and no further imports
The first Charolais to come into the United
States from Mexico
are believed to be two bulls, Neptune and Ortolan, which were purchased
from Pugibet by the King Ranch in Texas and imported in June 1936.
Later imports of bulls were owned by some
of the early "pioneers" in the industry: Harl Thomas,
Fred W. Turner, C.M. "Pete" Frost, M.G. Michaelis Sr.,
and I.G. "Cap" Yates, all of Texas, J.A. "Palley"
Lawton of Louisiana, and others.
In the mid-1940s an outbreak of Hoof and
Mouth Disease occurred in Mexico. As a result, a treaty between
the United States, Canada and Mexico set up a permanent quarantine
against cattle coming into any of these countries from Europe or
any country in which Hoof and Mouth Disease was known to exist.
This barred any further importation of French
Charolais on this continent until 1965 when Canada opened the import
doors via rigid quarantine both in France and in Canada.
Development in the United States
Until the mid-1960s, all the Charolais in
Mexico, the United States and Canada were descendants of this initial
Pugibet herd. Due to the limited number of original animals and
the import restrictions which were in place, they have been crossed
on other cattle in an upgrading process.
Because of the use of the upgrading process
few of the Charolais cattle currently found in the United State
are of pure French breeding. With the lightening of the import restrictions
in Canada in the mid-1960's fullblood Charolais were again imported
This allowed for the importation of new bloodlines
from France. This meant new genetic material for tightly-bred Charolais
pedigrees of the time. Several breeding herds were estabilished
in Canada, as well as the island of Eleuthera, in the Bahamas. Japan,
England and Ireland also imported purebred Charolais directly from
France. Offspring from these herds were later imported to the United
American Charolais are referred to as "purebred"
or "recorded" depending upon the percentage of known Charolais
blood. The term purebred is used on those that carry 31/32
or more Charolais blood and those less than 31/32 can be referred
to as recorded.
People wishing to develop a herd will still
find it possible to upgrade, using purebred Charolais sires, a foundation
cow herd of one of the other cattle breeds or their crosses. Five
generations of purebred bulls are required to produced the 31/32
level for classification as "purebred".
Sires used in the grading-up process must
be registered. The offspring from the first as well as succeeding
generations must be registered as "recorded" until they
reach the 31/32 level at which time they are referred to as purebred.
It has been said that no other breed has
impacted the North American beef industry so significantly as the
introduction of Charolais. The Charolais came into widespread use
in the United States cattle industry at a time when producers were
seeking larger framed, heavier cattle than the traditional British
The increased use on the range indicates
that the cows have performed well under a variety of environmental
conditions. Their ability to walk, graze aggressively in warm weather,
withstand reasonable cold, and raise heavy calves has drawn special
praise from many that have them.
Bulls have developed a well-earned reputation
when used in grading-up for herd improvement. This is especially
noted when they are used in herds where size and ruggedness are
Charolais are white or creamy white in color,
but the skin carries appreciable pigmentation. The hair coat is
usually short in summer but thickens and lengthens in cold weather.
Charolais is a naturally horned beef animal.
But through the breeding-up program, where naturally polled breeds
were sometimes used as foundation animals, polled Charolais have
emerged as an important part of the breed. Charolais cattle are
large with mature bulls weighing from 2,000 to well over 2,500 pounds
and cows weigh from 1,250 to over 2,000 pounds.
Briggs, H.M. & D.M. Briggs. Modern
Breeds of Livestock. Fourth Edition. Macmillan Publishing Co.
Promotional material, American-International
Charolais Association, Kansas City, MO
American-International Charolais Association,
Kansas City, MO
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