Charolais cattle are one of the world's finest beef cattle. The breed's origins date back to the time of Charlemagne, with their fame spreading throughout Europe by the time of the French Revolution. Today, Charolais can be found throughout the world, but especially in Europe and North America. They produce excellent quality beef and often are used to improve herds of other cattle breeds.
Today's modern Charolais are descended from white cattle bred in Charolles and Nieves, France, and mentioned in folklore as early as 878 A.D. By the 16th and 17th centuries, their fame had spread throughout France The first known herd book, which records and registers purebred cattle, was started in Charolles in 1882. By the start of the 20th century, Charolais could be found throughout Europe. The first Charolais arrived in Mexico in 1937. Today's Charolais in North America trace their lineage to two bulls bought from the Mexican herd, Neptune and Ortolan, and to Charolais imported from France in the 1960s to improve the breed.
Charolais cattle are either white or a creamy-white color; some breeders today are breeding red and black Charolais. They may have horns, but polled Charolais are preferred, especially among animals intended for feedlots, where horns can be dangerous to other cattle or people. Those with pedigrees containing more French-bred Charolais tend to have horns. The coat is long and slightly wavy during the winter, but sheds in the spring to reveal a short, smooth coat for the warmer months. They have a deep chest, broad body and strong, muscled hindquarters. Bulls can weigh up to 2,500 pounds and cows up to 2,000 pounds.
Temperment and Health
Charolais tend to be hardy animals, able to withstand cold winters and warm summers. They can graze on pasture that many other breeds cannot use as efficiently, and gain weight and muscle rapidly. They have rugged hooves and also are able to walk over rough terrain. Cows calve easily, a trait prized among farmers and ranchers. Calves are born at a heavier weight than other breeds.
Charolais are bred primarily for meat production. The Cattle Site provides a table of meat weights from various cattle breeds, and the Charolais comes in among the top meat producing breeds, rivaled only by the Angus. Charolais bulls also are bred to Angus, Hereford and Brahma cows to produce hardy offspring and improve herds. The offspring of such crosses typically retain the best aspects of the Charolais breed.
David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images
Jeanne Grunert has been a writer since 1990. Covering business, marketing, gardening and health topics, her work has appeared in the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books, "Horse Illustrated" and many national publications. Grunert earned her Master of Arts in writing from Queens College and a Master of Science in direct and interactive marketing from New York University.