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Charolais Assets & Performance

The first beef breed in France and in Europe the charolais breed has exceptional qualities: docility, meat production, adaptability, growth potential, easy calving….

Charolais Breed Assets

Its well known docility 

makes for more safety and time-saving in handling. This quality is also particularly useful in case of extensive breeding in large herds.

The Charolais breed: first breed of France and in Europe.

With more than 50 % of the total staff of cows of races with meat in France and 25 % in Europe, the livestock Charolais is the first one at the French and European level.

Charolais breed counts 1,6 million cows meaning  20% of the French Herd


Remarkable performances:

Remarkable performances for the most important base controlled in France. With approximately 233 797 controlled cows (VA4), the race possesses of the most important base controlled in France, what allows a work of effective selection.

Exceptional meat qualities:


A growth of 1.1 kg /per day during the 120 first days and a average gain of 2.2 kg /day during fattening period.

42% of heifers slaughtered in France –of any breed- (including milk breed) are charolais.

33% of young bulls slaughtered in France –of any breed- (including milk breed) are charolais.


Significant maternal qualities:

An abundant production of milk (the highest among meat breeds), a strong maternal instinct, with elaborate care given to the veal and also a 93 % rate of easy calving.


Guarantee of one calf par year  379 days between 2 calving

Exceptional twin rate :4%

Best milk ability among beef breed (7liter of milk per day= growth 1000g per day


Easy calving:

Easy calving , even on heifers  (breed average = 93%).

Setting up of easy calving program by HBC aiming at optimizing birth conditions


An Ecological breed:

Respectful of the nature cycle, the Charolais cow feeds her calf with her milk during the first seven months, until weaning. Fed with grass, charolais preserves shapes and maintains the landscape. On the other hand, high food efficiency allows it to properly valorize the roughage and therefore to have a consistent food with its environment.

The first beef breed used for crossbreeding

1 crossed calf out of 2 has a charolais father
(Idèle 2013).


First breed for export:

With an exceptional adaptation ability to any climate (tropical, desert, cold) the Charolais breed is now present in over 70 countries worldwide. It is used on other local breeds as a genetic enhancer. Charolais took part to  the creation of two well known breed  crossing in tropical environments: Charbray (Charolais x Brahman), canchim (Charolais x Zebu). Charolais is present today in Mexico, Spain, Hungary, Brazil, the United States ...


Charolais breed PERFORMANCES:

Performances of breed Charolais make it profitable for farmers whatever the operating and farming system.

Some outstanding performance for the most important performing control base in France. With about 235,000 cows controlled (VA4), charolais breed has the largest controlled base in France, allowing an efficient selection work.



Charolais History

Created in 1864 the Herd Book Charolais is the French organization in charge of registering purebred charolais cattle.

A little bit of History

The Charolais Herd Book is the result of the fusion, in 1920, under the agis of the Central France Federation of Agricultural Societies, of :

  • The Nivernais-Charolais breed Herd book, established in 1864 by the Nièvre Agricultural Society.

  • The pure Charollais breed Herd Book, created in Charolles in 1882 by the Saône-et-Loire General Council and limited to the département.

It has been registered as a non-profit-making organization, under the 1st of July 1901 law which groups "stockbreeders and all people, associations and organizations interested in promoting the Charolais breed in France and abroad".

The Charolais Herd Book is closed since 1920 and only accepts registration from animals whose parents are both registered already. However, because of the important improvements achieved within the non-registered livestock , mostly through the use of registered breeders, the board of directors decided to create in 1959 a "waiting list" called B Record to list the noteworthy females with the prospect of registering them in the A Rsecord after assessment..

The development of the Charolais Herd Book activities has been relativily modest until 1950, similar to all other breeding organizations in fact. Until that date the activity was restricted to a limited number of stockbreeders, yet the action of this group made possible the progressive improvement of the race thanks to the wider use of male breeders. From 1955 onwards, there is a large increase in the number of annual registrations as well as in the number of registered cattle farms. Also there are more regions where registrations are made.

The association today : an association managed by stockbreeders for the benefit of stock breeders!

The Charolais Herd Book is run by a board of directors composed of 35 members (33 members are elected within the 12 regional sections and the last 2 members are elected in an advisory capacity). The board of directors meets at least four times a year and every time it is considered necessary, on the initiative of the Chairman. This board, whose function is to attend to the Association’s interests, deliberates on all questions appearing on the agenda.

The General Assembly is composed of 176 elected delegates representing the 12 "regional" sections of the Association. The General Assembly meets on a annual basis and every time it is considered necessary. It ratifies the accounts of the ending year and decides on the agenda determined by the board of directors.

Genetics at your service

The stockbreeders of the Charolais Herd Book are taking part in a collective selection effort aiming at producing animals adapted to the needs of all meat producers and stockbreeders. Whatever the type of production and objectives meat producers set for themselves, there is an answer! the registered bull, an animal with genetic references for an improved and consistent production!




The origins of the Charolais breed have given rise to a large number of hypothesis. For some, the breed comes from livestock brought back from the Holy Crusades by the Lords of Damascus, a powerful noble family from the South of Burgundy. For others such as Sanson, a French "zootechnician" of the 19th Century, the breed originates from the Jurassic period.


The history of the Charolais breed can be divided into 3 main periods, corresponding to the various stages of its expansion.

  • Until 1773 : The breed developed in its birthplace

  • From 1773 to 1920

  • The XXth Century : " The silver breed with golden future"

Until 1773 : The development of the breed in its birthplace

At the time, Charolais livestock was limited to its birthplace, the Arconce valley, at the junction of the Charollais and Brionnais regions. As time went by, this area specialized in breeding and grazing hence pastures developed at the expense of forests and agriculture lands. There are various reasons for this situation: the great famine that took place between 1709 and 1711 and the meat shortages in big cities, but most of all the fact that, contrary to other French regions, these areas had reduced common land. As a rule, the parish was usually divided into three "areas" for the three-year rotation of crops. All landowners had to comply with this rule. However, for political reasons, different rules applied for land management in the Brionnais and Charolles Counties. The region was divided into privately owned estates and smallholding farms on which the master ruled as a landowner. He could thus put his animals to pasture at will. Confirming this situation, Varennes de Brest wrote in 1761 : "Each one of these small counties proportionately breed more livestock than any other in the area, and of a far better quality. In these counties alone are bred the bullocks used for butcher trade."

Once fattened, bullocks were sold to the butcher’s in Paris and Lyon. Emile Matthieu took up the challenge and the first load reached Paris after a 17-day trip! Charolais livestock breeding intensified to meet increasing demand as the road network developed. In this manner the white breed developed in its birthplace and the affluence of the region steadily increased during the XVIIIth Century.

From 1773 to 1920

Introduction in the Nièvre region (1773-1818)

In 1773, Claude Matthieu, son of Emilien Matthieu, leaves the village of Oyé in the Brionnais region with his livestock, to settle as a farmer for the Damascus family in Anzely, in the surroundings of Nevers. There, on cold and dense clayey-calcareous grounds, he sets up rich pastures in order to develop his livestock. Within a few years he transforms the estate and wide artificial pasture grounds spread, populated with white animals whose easy management only requires a limited number of employees. Other Brionnais farmers follow his example and rent farms around Nevers. On the parish registers, most of them are mentionned as "traders" since they probably buy bullocks from the Charollais region to sell them back in Paris at the Poissy market, the Nièvre region being only a stopover. During the first half of the XIXth Century, the Charolais breed progressively takes the place of the existing livestock. But most of all, selection on the basis of meat qualities is implemented. The animal is put to work, in order to be strong and solidly-built but still retains an excellent build similar to animals originating from the Charollais bithplace.

These animals display excellent qualities, in terms of precocity, choiceness and fattening aptitudes.This is confirmed when the first cattle shows open in Poissy in 1844, where Durham crossbreds often appear among the winners.

However, they are less hardy, more demanding, often fatter and their work capacity is considerably affected. So pure race breeding reappears, under an organized structure from 1864 onwards with the establishment of the Herd Book of the "Charolais breed improved in the Nièvre region and known as the Nièvre Breed". It is done thanks to the Nièvre Agricultural Society, presided by the Count of Bouillé. "Thus, if the introduction of the Durham breed has played a part in the improvement of the Charolais breed, it is not thanks to its bloodline, as is often said, but indeed because it gave the stockbreeders a model to follow, using the methods through which this model itself was produced." (Sanson, 1867)

The breed settles in central France.

From then on, the Charolais breed spreads in all regions of central France, more and more towards areas of strong agricultural activity where farmers are interested in using them as draught animals due to their intrinsic qualities. In the 1820’s, new methods of selection appear, following the initiative of Louis Massé in the Cher region. He is aiming at increasing the weight of his animals by feeding them more often, with more abundant and richer food. But he also pays careful attention to the selection of his breeders, " focusing less on their size and build but rather on the width of the chest and pelvis, the shortness of the limbs, the smallness of the bones, the suppleness of the hide, the silky quality of the coat and on the milk producing capacity of the cow." These selection methods earned him and his children such a success that they start to win medals at breeders and butcher shows on a regular basis.

The pure breed selection methods develop (1864-1920)During the same period, breeders and "fattened animals" shows become more common and, as early as 1865, gain a well-deserved reputation by kindling a profitable competition between breeders. Animals of Charolais breed already reach a satisfying development. In 1860, the total number of Charolais animals is estimated at 315 000 head of cattle. In 1892, it reaches 1 128 000 and it can be noticed that the breed , besides its expansion in the central region is also present in the west of France. In the Vendée bocage, where land is worked according to the sharecropping method, the profits made when selling the animals are shared between the landowner and the tenant farmer , whereas the profits of the milk production come to the latter exclusively. Tenant farmers thus attach greater value to the milk production of their cows whereas landowners, from the middle of the XIXth Century onwards, are more interested in obtaining animals that are mature earlier and with a better build than the local Vendée breed. The Batiot brothers, strongly interested in the Charolais breed they discover at the 1878 World Fair, decide to introduce them on their estate in Bourg-sous-la-roche. In this way, the Charolais breed spreads west. Stockbreeders of the Charolles area, however, who had always looked upon crossbreeding with the Durham breed distrustingly, open in 1882, for their region and at the instigation of the General Council of Saône-et- Loire, a "Herd-book of the pure Charollais breed" in order to ensure the preservation of the breed’s purity and contribute to its improvement. During this period, the use of the Charolais breed both for meat and work purposes helps to direct the selection program towards the production of large, muscled up animals with limited tendencies to fat deposits. This direction in selection is especially appropriate since from 1920 onwards the Charolais race is exclusively bred for its meat.

The Durham test

The propensity towards putting on fat had always been the first concern of stockbreeders working for the meat market, who are always aiming at bringing slaughtering age down and consequently reduce cost prices . It doesn’t take them long to turn to the Durham breed: crossbreeding is very much in use at that time in France and especially with this English breed. The first white Durham animals are introduced in 1830 by the Count of Bouillé who had created a few years back a fine Charolais breeding center in his Villars estate (Nièvre region). The resulting crossbreedings, conducted until 1843, gave birth to the Nièvre Breed.


Worldwide expansion

The rapid development of the Charolais breed in the grassy areas of Central and South-West France could not but interest foreign stockbreeders. In 1906, two stockbreeders, Frédéric Bardin and Alphonse Colas, both from the Nièvre region, show Charolais breeders in Milan. Such success is achieved that, for the 1910 World Fair in Buenos Aires, the Union of Charolais Stockbreeders organizes a subscription to send the most beautiful specimens of the race. The trend was set in motion and after World War I, foreign delegations started to come and visit French cattle farms. The Central Exportation Union of Charolais Breeders was created in 1921. Its activity rapidly expanded until 1923-24, but the worldwide economic crisis occuring at that time considerably slowed down exportations, which almost stopped from 1934 onwards. It is not until 1955-1960 that an upturn in the commercial activity can be observed, thanks mainly to the numerous business trips of the President of the Charolais Herd Book, Emile Maurice, to Spain, Portugal, England, South and North America. He is behind the creation of the International Federation of Charolais Race Stockbreeders Association (F.I.A.E.R.B.C), today known as Charolais Worldwide. Today the Charolais breed is quickly and efficiently exported thanks to its easy use in crossbreeding, to improve the genetic potential of local breeds.


Expansion in France

The defining feature of this period is the increasing attention paid to selection work.The objective was to obtain animals with a better build and heavier mucle mass, and also a deeper chest and shorter limbs but without taking it to the extreme so as not to stop the animals from covering great distances in the pasture lands. These qualities made possible the expansion of the race in the neighbouring regions of Vendée ( Anjou, Poitou, Charentes), in the South-West (central part of the Aquitain Basin), in the North of France and in mountainous areas for industrial crossbreeding. Until 1950 this evolution was made possible thanks to cattle shows that identified for stockbreeders the standard of what should be produced, and also with the help of the Herd Book which only allowed registration for animals meeting the standard criterias. Then, new methods of selection appeared based on more objective criterias to evaluate the development and meat qualities. (see the "Selection" section) Selection for hardiness and meat qualities has made it possible for the Charolais breed to become the first brood cow breed in France, present today in more than 80 départements and used in pure race as well as crossbreeding.


Whereras in France the meat produced by the herd in pure breed suckling forms a large part of the production, it is not always so in the rest of the world. Everywhere else, the meat is produced by a herd of females of hardy or milk breed, often short in size, mating with a pure breed meat bull of the large variety.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, foreign cattle breeders were impressed by this large white breed they could see when visiting France or in shows abroad where French cattle breeders would bring breeding stock. They conducted a few tests and realized that the Charolais breed is the one that brings the most substantial improvements to the developement and structure of the product.

The Charolais breed has two other main advantages. The meat is leaner than the Milk or British meat breed (which was the reference at the time.). And also the coat of the resulting crossbreed is visibly whiter and more uniform in color, thus visually advertising the obvious quality of the product.

The major meat-producing countries then set up a group of cattle breeders whose function was to supply the local cattle farms with pure race bulls.


The Charolais Breed is now present in almost 70 countries across the world

The Charolais cattle breeders associations in these countries are grouped within the Charolais Worldwide, whose main objective is to homogenize the management of the Genealogical Record. In all these Recordstwo sections can be found: the first one, called "Full French", groups all the direct descendants of the animals imported from France, and the second one called "Pure Breed", lists the animals resulting from crossbreeding absorptions with a minimum Charolais blood .



Breed standard

The race standard precisely describes the phenotypical (visible) characteristics common to all animals of a same race. Animals of pure Charolais breed all display the following characteristics :

  • A spotless, uniformly white or sometimes cream coat.

  • A pinkish white mucous membrane.

  • A relatively small head, short, with wide forehead, a rather flat profile and a straight forelock. The nose is straight and short, horns are long, light-coloured and round. Ears are of medium-size, thin and not excessively hairy. Eyes are big and bulging. Strong cheeks and large muzzle.

  • A short neck with few dewlaps.

  • A deep chest and roundish ribs merging with the shoulder.

  • A heavily muscled, horizontal back with very broad loins.Very wide, and slightly flat haunches. Wide hindquarters.

  • A low descending rounded rump. The bottom line running parallel to the backbone.

  • A Bumpless, slender tail, tapering to a tuft of fine hair.

  • Short and steady, but not excessively thin legs.

  • A very supple skin of average thickness.

The main types of productions of the race

Lean animals productions

Mainly "broutards", grass-fed calves (8 to 12 months old), sold at a live weight of 340 kgs to Spanish or Italian fattening stations. Charolais "broutards" are highly prized by foreign fatteners for their adaptability to the fattening stage, and also for their fast development rate as well as efficient feeding habits (capacity to turn into meat even the rougher types of food). Charolais bulls used for crossbreeding with hardy races (Aubracs, Salers) also offer young animals a very good build and a fast development rate.

Fattened animals productions

  • Bull-calves are sold at a carcass weight of 420 kgs between 15 to 18 months with an average development rate from birth of 1500 gms per day.

  • Fattened heifers are sold at a carcass weight of 360 kgs depending on their age (24 to 36 months old).

  • Retired cows are sold at a carcass weight of 430 kgs ( above 4 years of age: less and less older cows are used since official quality requirements set a slaughtering age inferior to 9 years).

  • Bullocks or castrated males, sold at a carcass weight of 420 to 460 kgs (age superior to 30 months) producing a marbled meat often sold in the quality niche market.

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