The History of Limousin
These golden-red cattle are native to the
south central part of France in the regions of Limousin and Marche.
The terrain of the homeland has been described as rugged and rolling
with rocky soil and a harsh climate.
Consequently, the growing of field crops
was very difficult at best and emphasis was placed on animal agriculture.
Limousin cattle, as a result of their environment, evolved into
a breed of unusual sturdiness, health and adaptability.
This lack of natural resources also enabled
the region to remain relatively isolated and the farmers free to
develop their cattle with little outside genetic interference.
During these early times of animal power,
Limousin gained well-earned reputation as work animals in addition
to their beef qualities. Rene Lafarge reported in 1698, "Limousin
oxen were universally renowned and esteemed both as beasts of burden
and beef cattle."
At the end of their work life these animals
were then fattened for slaughter.
Traditionally, French cattle were kept in
a confinement or semi-confinement situation. However, Limousin cattle
spent the majority of their time outdoors in the harsh climate of
the region. This was a source of great pride to the breeders.
The cows calved year round, outdoors, to
bring in a regular source of income and the heifers were bred to
calve at three years of age. In the winter, the entire herd was
outside and whatever the season, the cattle were handled on a daily
Once in the 1700s and again in the mid-1800s,
an attempt was made by a small number of French Limousin breeders
to crossbreed their cattle in hopes of gaining both size and scale.
In 1840 several breeders crossbred their Limousin with oxen of Agenaise
The resulting animals were taller, having
more volume of muscling in their hindquarter. Unfortunately, however,
these crossbred cattle proved not to be economical as they needed
a larger amount of feed than could be provided in the majority of
Only near Limoges, where manure and fertilizers
were plentiful and growing of field crops was widespread, did these
Limousin breeders admitted their mistake
and then concentrated upon improving the breed through natural selection.
A leader in the natural selection movement was Charles de Leobary
and his herdsman, Royer.
Through a very tough, selective process these
two developed an outstanding herd of "purebred" Limousin. From 1854
to 1896 the de Leobary herd won a total of 265 ribbons at the prestigious
Bordeaux Competition, one of France's finest cattle shows.
Limousin cattle made a deep impression in
French cattle shows during the 1850s. The first show wins were at
the Bordeaux Fair where Limousin took second and third places.
The cattle belonged to the already mentioned
de Leobary herd. Furthermore, in 1857, '58 and '59, Limousin animals
topped other breeds in some of the first carcass competitions at
the farm produce competition held at Poissy, near Paris.
The reputation of Limousin as meat animals
was firmly established. Today, Limousin cattle are still referred
to as the "butcher's animal" in France.
The widespread use of natural selection made
it important to record the bloodlines of the outstanding Limousin
bulls and females. So, in November of 1886, the first Limousin Herd
Book was established. Louis Michel presided over the herd book,
the objective of which was to ensure the uniformity of the breed
Michel and his 11 fellow herd book commissioners were extremely
rigid in the selections.
Between 1887 and 1890, the commission met
six times and out of 1,800 animals presented for registration from
150 different farms, only a total of 674 (117 males and 497 females)
were accepted for registration.
The formation of the herd book had other
important consequences. Once established, the French government
then established shows solely for Limousin cattle. As with their
counterparts today, these shows provided tremendous exposure for
the breed as the many valuable traits of these beef cattle were
presented for all to see.
By July of 1914, the total number of animals
registered in the herd book was 5,416. It is interesting to note
the herd book has been reorganized twice since it was founded, once
in 1923 and again in 1937.
Both times these reorganizations were used
to redefine the characteristics of the breed, making the breeders
more selective, thus improving the quality of the animals.
Through the late 1800s and early 1900s, Limousin
breeders paid close attention to morphological characteristics as
the breed developed.
The medium size of these cattle as compared
to other European breeds was, and is still, an outstanding breed
trait. They also selected for the dark golden-red hide with wheat
French records also show a great deal of
emphasis was stressed upon deep chest, a strong top-line, well-placed
tailhead and strongly-muscled hindquarter. The end result was an
efficient, hardy, adaptable animal which was extremely well-suited
for its only intended purpose ... to produce meat.
As the breed developed in France, cattlemen
in North America were looking to Europe to improve their native
beef cattle here in the United States.
In the late 1800s, English breeds such as
the Hereford, Shorthorn and Angus were imported and crossed on native
cattle, most of them of Spanish background. In the early 1900s Charolais
were imported into Cuba and Mexico and were first introduced into
the United States in the early 1930s.
The acceptance of Charolais, combined with
the use of crossbreeding as a tool to increase beef production,
lead to the investigation of many other European breeds, including
Limousin, by North American cattlemen.
One of the first exposures in this country
concerning Limousin cattle was in the early 1960s in an issue of
the Western Livestock Journal when a Canadian wrote of his impressions
after returning from a trip to France.
As more cattlemen traveled to Europe they
came back talking about an impressive "new" beef breed they had
seen ... Limousin.
Cattle from France were not eligible for
importation into the United States, as France was a hoof-and-mouth
disease affected area. However, the Canadian government did agree
to accept French cattle after they had successfully completed a
strict three step quarantine program.
Before the cattle left France they were held
in a three-month quarantine, then once arriving in Canada they were
kept on Grosse Isle off the coast of Nova Scotia or St. Pierre Island
in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for another three-month period.
Finally, the cattle were required to successfully
pass a 30-day "on the farm" quarantine. Once they passed the quarantine,
semen could be shipped throughout North America.
The first Limousin imported to Canada was
Prince Pompadour, a son of Baron bred at the highly-respected Pompadour
Estate of France.
Through the efforts of Adrien de Moustier
of France (later to found Bov Import, Inc.) and others, the bull
arrived in November of 1968. An impressive bull, Prince Pompadour
had been selected by noted French breeder Emil Chastanet as a herd
bull for his operation.
After his arrival, Prince Pompadour was
brought to the United States to be part of Limousin exhibitions
at various cattle shows and did much to draw attention to the breed.
The first Limousin bulls imported permanently
into the United States did not arrive until the fall of 1971.
Until this time, the Canadian government
had not permitted any Limousin bulls to leave the country except
for short periods for exhibition purposes and then only if the owners
posted a large bond that was refunded when the animal returned to
The first U.S. import, Kansas Colonel, was
born and raised in Canada and was imported by Bob Haag of Topeka,
Kansas, for a group of Kansas Limousin breeders.
The first Limousin semen was available from
Prince Pompadour in July of 1969. After being evaluated by J. J.
"Bud" Prosser at the International Beef Breeders facility near Denver,
semen was picked up by Colonel E.J. Geesen of Agate, Colorado. A
retired Air Force officer, Geesen used the semen on his Angus cows
on his ranch east of Denver.
After the importation of Prince Pompadour
to Canada, another group of Limousin bulls followed in 1969. This
shipment contained Decor, Diplomate, Dandy, Prairie Danseur and
These bulls were the base upon which the
breed began its long climb up and found good acceptance on the part
of cattlemen. After ten years, many of these bulls still rank high
in the NALF sire summary.
As the first Limousin cattle arrived in North
America, cattlemen interested in the breed realized the need for
an organization to promote and develop the breed in the United States
At one of these meetings in the spring of
1968 at the Albany Hotel in Denver, fifteen cattlemen formed the
North American Limousin Foundation (NALF).
First president of the NALF was Bob Purdy
of Buffalo, Wyoming. A well-respected cattleman, Purdy was a strong
advocate of performance testing.
Through his experience with Charolais, Purdy
knew many of the pitfalls to be avoided in the early days. Purdy
was a capable administrator who gave solid leadership to the Foundation
during its infancy in the three years he served as president.
The man responsible for the actual day-to-day
running of the NALF was the first executive vice president, Dick
Goff of Denver.
A journalist by profession, Goff's advertising
agency had worked for the Charolais association, and had seen first-hand
the development of a new breed association. He knew the first three
to five years of a breed association's existence were extremely
critical and financial stability was the key to survival.
As a result, Goff was largely responsible
for the firm financial base upon which the NALF was built. He developed
the idea to sell 100 founder memberships in the NALF for $2,500
apiece. Each founder member was entitled to a prorated share of
Prince Pompadour semen, all of which was owned by the NALF.
All but one of the memberships were sold
and the combination of excellent cattle, leadership and financial
stability gave the Limousin breed a tremendous start in North America.
From the initial concentrations in Oklahoma,
Texas, South Dakota and western Canada, the Limousin breed has expanded
across North America.
The tremendous carcass traits of the breed
have attracted the full attention of the entire beef industry. In
addition to solid prices for breeding stock, feeders are paying
a premium for percentage Limousin because of their excellent feed
efficiency and packers are asking for Limousin by name.
Percentage Limousin steers have had unparalleled
success in the show ring. Limousin steers have won such prestigious
shows as Denver, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Ak-Sar-Ben,
not to mention numerous state and county fairs.
Besides these on-foot champions, Limousin
steers have won many carcass shows, living up to their reputation
as the "Carcass Breed."
The NALF has grown from the original 99 founding
members to over 12,000 active members. Since NALF began, over 1
million Limousin have been registered through the organization.
Based on annual registrations, Limousin is the largest Continental
breed in the United States.
From humble beginnings in France many centuries
ago, these golden-red beef cattle have now achieved acceptance here
in the United States as a major contributor to a more efficient
North American Limousin Foundation,
P.O. Box 4467, Englewood, CO 80155, Phone: (303) 220-1693.
North American Limousin Foundation,
P.O. Box 4467, Englewood, CO 80155, Phone: (303) 220-1693.