There are many cattle breeds that have served to make the US beef industry a power to recon with in terms of high quality beef yields—one of the most important is indisputably the Charolais. The unmistakable white or cream colored animals have served to introduce size and muscling to many other beef breeds.
The Charolais may have been present for a lot longer than is officially recorded. Some evidence points to their having been around as early as 878 AD. Per official recordings, the breed is traced back to the 16th and 17th centuries in which its beef was rated favorably in the markets of Lyon and Villefranche in France. Its origins are from the central regions of France, specifically Nizure and Charolles from where it takes its name. Being popular cattle, different herd books and breed associations originated in several regions. In 1864, the presence of an influential herd in Nevers was recorded in the Nevers-Charolaise herd book. In 1882, another herd book was created; this time for the area of Charolles. The herd books were combined in 1919.
By the turn of the century, the presence of the Charolais in Europe was well established. During the war years, a Mexican industrialist by the name of Jean Pugibet became acquainted with the breed and impressed by their large size and yield bought several head. By 1937, 37 Charolais cattle had been taken to his ranch in Mexico. In the late 1930s, the first Charolais cattle originating from Pugibet’‘s herd were brought to the US. These original animals are thought to have been the King Ranch bulls, Neptune and Ortolan. The fact remains that once in US territory the breed’‘s popularity exploded.
An unfortunate quarantine arose a few years after due to an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease in Mexico. Because of the severity of the condition, an alliance was formed by the three North American countries in which importation of any livestock was prohibited from all areas where the disease had been present. Until 1965 when Canada allowed the import of cattle under strict quarantine rules, there were no more French Charolais brought into the continent.
Not ones to give up on their newly discovered asset, breeders of the Charolais created a breeding up process. Via this method, a purebred bull was used for five generations to produce an animal of 31/32 parts Charolais—for all intents and purposes this animal was considered a purebred. Cattle having less than 31/32 Charolais blood were given the title of recorded. Though the current American Charolais contains only about 3% French Charolais genetics, the upgrading process introduced genetic benefits of other breeds such as hardiness and the gene for polledness. It has also allowed the use of the newly accepted French Charolais blood without the worry of inbreeding.
The current breed association, the American International Charolais Association is a accumulation of all previous Charolais and Charolais based breed associations. These include the American Charolais Breeders, the American Charbray Breeders, the International Charolais and the Pam American Charolais Association. It is a powerhouse of information and influence amongst its breed and has set definite standards for expected quality.
The popularity of the Charolais is owed to nothing other than its own attributes. Large to medium framed animals, Charolais while not the most docile of breeds are gentle natured. They are now almost exclusively polled—a highly desired trait amongst breeders and feedlots. Charolais have a deep, very broad body with heavily muscled loins and haunches. The cattle are relatively easy calvers and cows boast fine maternal instincts. Charolais possess superior growth ability and have economically gratifying terminal weights. They are so widespread in use that adaptability has been irrefutably proven.
The Charbray, a combination of Charolais and Brahman derivation is a sampling of what the breed can offer when used in outcrosses. The white cattle will continue as proof that genetic purity is only as good as the thought taken to determine breedings.
American-International Charolais Association
11700 NW Plaza Circle
Kansas City, MO 64153
(816) 464-5759 FAX