France is the cradle of great bovine genetic diversity.

34 cow breeds are currently used in France among which 13 are part of a genetic conservation program. 9 breeds are specifically selected for their meat. Most of those beef breeds derive from draught animals, which began to be selected for their muscular properties, maternal qualities and docility during the 19th century. Two beef breeds are dominant among the French cattle: the Charolaise and the Limousine, both of which you can also find in the United States.

The Charolaise and the Limousine: French breeds whose qualities are registered in a “Herd Book”

Both the Charolaise and Limousine breeds come from French regions known for their expansive pastures and grasslands. They have exceptional attributes regarding growth rate and meat properties. In France, several official signs of quality are linked to these breeds. Their capacity to grow and produce lean meat is key for the production premium meat products, and their docility and maternal qualities are essential for the facilitation of breeding in various types of farming. That’s why both can easily calve (more than 90% of all births are without complications) and take special care of their veal without need for intervention. This autonomy is particularly essential in more extensive farming, where the farmers’ ability to carefully oversee each and every calf is more is not viable.

Most of French breeds have a “Herd Book” in which animals are registered. Such is the case for the Charolaise and the Limousine. All of the properties and pedigrees of each registered animal are listed on a form within this sort of directory. The Herd Book allows people to choose the animals they want to use for reproduction depending on the traits they want to improve in their herd. These Herd Books were created in the 1920s but only became the heart of the selection program in the 50s. Breeders can decide to register their animals or not. A Herd book is administered by an association of breeders and registering your animals in the Herd Book requires annual on-farm inspections. This livestock follow-up aims at verifying that the animals comply with the breed characteristics as defined in the Herd Book and determining which animals could be valuable breeding animals.

The Charolaise: Beef breed number one in France

©Pascal Xicluna/Min.Agri.Fr

Charolaise cows  ©Pascal Xicluna/Min.Agri.Fr

A pure Charolaise cow is characterized by a spotless, uniformly white or sometimes cream coat and clear-colored and inward-curving horns. The Charolaise is particularly known for its rapid growth rate. Its name comes from the town of Charolles, in Burgundy, around which Charolaise cows were first bred. Selection of the Charolaise breed began in the 18th century when these cows started to expand in surrounding French regions.

2300 breeders joined the Charolaise Herd Book created in 1920. With 1.5 million Charolaise cows currently bred in France, the Charolaise breed is the preferred domestic beef breed. It is also the first beef breed used in Europe. Use of the Charolaise for cross-breeds in France and abroad is a very common practice.

The Limousine: a reddished-wheatened-coated cow

©Xavier Remongin/

Limousines cows ©Xavier Remongin/

The Limousine is characterized by a uniform and bright reddish-wheatened coat, a large size, a short head with inward-curving horns. The Limousine breed is named after the French Southwestern region it comes from: Limousin. It is particularly known for its high rate of return: more than 70% of a Limousine’s live weight is able to be sold.

The Limousine Herd book was founded in 1886. 4,000 males and 14,000 females are registered every year. More than 1 million Limousines are currently bred in France.

To learn more about French breeds and breeding programs :
France génétique in English