Producing 23.7 billion liters of milk each year, France is the second European milk producer (17% of the European production). The French dairy herd is composed of 3.8 million cows. 60% are Prim’Holstein, but traditional breeds form part of the French terroir and are essential for the cheese production. The Prim’Holstein breed has a large international presence primarily because of its production capacity: they have an average milk yield of 11,391 kg a year. France has the world second highest concentration of Prim’Holstein and is therefore able to export its genetics worldwide (22000 heifers and 1.1 million samples of semen a year). Apart from the Prim’Holstein, French traditional dairy breeds have specific traits for geared toward high quality of milk, but also of meat, and environmental adaptability. 17 dairy breeds are present in France, of which 5 are part of a conservation program.
The Montbeliarde and the Normande: two local hardy breeds with a high level of protein in their milk and attractive meat properties.
In comparison with the Prim’holstein, the Montbeliarde and the Normande (as well as other local hardy breeds) produce less milk, but with a higher protein and/or fat content that makes it a better base from which one can produce quality cheese. They are closely linked to the traditional cheese production. Furthermore, these breeds are more adaptable to hardy conditions (variations of temperature for example, heat) than is the Holstein. They fare particularly well in grazed-based farming systems.
The Montbeliarde: a mountain cow from the East of France
The Montbeliarde comes from Eastern France in a mountainous region called Jura. This breed has been utilized since the 19th century and has always been associated to local cheeses such as the famous Comté. Today, there are 10 cheeses with Protected Designations of Origin (PDO) that, in order to meet strict standards, explicitly require the use of the Montbeliarde’s milk.
The special breed is characterized by a red and white coat. The red is a bold, bright color, predominate on the upper part of the body, whereas the white coat typically stretches to the lower part of the body and to the extremities (head, limbs and tail). The average milk production of a registered Montbeliarde cow is 7200kg per lactation (305 days) and the Montbeliarde has a very good fat-to-protein ratio.
A little more than 600,000 Montbeliarde cows are currently bred in France. 600,000 semen samples are exported all around the world each year (45 countries).
The Normande: the shaded West Coaster
The Normande breed is the third-most populous dairy cow in France. As the name suggests it, this breed comes from Normandy and has been bred there since 18th century. The Normande cow is also intimately associated with high quality cheese production: Camembert de Normandie PDO, Livarot PDO, Pont l’evêque PDO all require Normande cows to be in the production herd (between 50 to 100% of the entire herd).
The Normande is characterized by a stained black, blond and white coat and usually displays “sunglasses” (dark stains around the eyes) brindle colors (fawn background with dark or brown stripes). The average milk production of a registered Normande cow is 6700kg per lactation (305 days). The Normande milk is characterized by a high level of protein combined with a high level of fat. Their carcasses are heavy and have a good yield; the meat is well-marbled and extremely flavorful.
Around 400,000 Normande cows are currently bred in France.
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