Charolais is the leading terminal beef sire noted for its fast growth and excellent conformation. Charolais cattle are creamy white through to wheaten in colour. Bulls are noted for muscling, with excellent loins, good hindquarters and deep second thigh, while females are less heavily muscled and have well developed udders. Charolais stand on four strong feet and legs and should be alert.
Charolais was the first Continental breed of cattle to be introduced to Great Britain and it revolutionized our beef industry. The initial importation of bulls, which was led by dairy producers seeking a superior sire to improve their calves’ conformation, arrived in the late 1950s. These bulls were licensed solely for use through AI companies. The importations met with fierce resistance in certain sectors, particularly since Britain was reputed to be the stockyard of the world.
On arrival, Charolais immediately demonstrated its superiority over native breeds in terms of growth rate, conformation and killing out percentage, not only to dairy producers but also to key players in the beef industry. The breed’s general acceptance was confirmed in 1962 with the establishment of the British Charolais Cattle Society (BCCS), after which its popularity grew to the extent by 1970, Charolais was regarded as the international leading terminal beef sire. The following year the first British bred Charolais bull achieved a five figure sum with Kersknowe Festival selling for 10,000gns to the former Scottish Milk Marketing Board. Scores of Charolais bulls have followed since at five figure sums including at Perth in1988, Maerdy Director changed hands for a British record fertile bull price of 56,000gns and Decrespigny Debutante achieved a female record price of 27,000gns at Carlisle in 1989.
Demand for the breed at auction culminated at Perth in February 2002 when the 226 lots sold to average £4,144.52, the highest ever Charolais and all breeds average at the centre. In addition, takings from the bulls and females grossed more than £1.1 million, another breed record at the mart’s current venue.
The breed’s main function is within the national suckler beef herd where Charolais remains unrivalled as a terminal sire due to its combined superior growth rate, muscle development, high killing out percentage and meat eating quality. The added bonus for Charolais crossbred progeny is their distinct colour and markings which gives added confidence to store cattle buyers.
Charolais also demonstrates tremendous flexibility within Britain’s varying beef management systems – Charolais crossbred cattle can be taken through to finishing from 12 months of age, and grade in the preferred specification. This combination of factors ensures that Charolais crossbreds consistently command a premium over any other Continental crossbred on a weight for age basis – the suckled calf ring as confirmed by MLC’s weekly prices, as well as store and finished sectors.
Charolais crossbred cattle are favoured by both sectors of the meat trade. Discerning butchers appreciate the Charolais’ intramuscular fat lending to its superior meat eating quality, while processors supplying multiples prefer Charolais crossbreds with their ability to provide the highest percentage of saleable cuts, in particular from their combination of loin and hind muscling.
Charolais is the ‘added value’ breed within the beef sector.
Charolais also plays a significant role as a beef sire within the dairy herd. Charolais sired dairy bred calves demonstrate they can not only match but outperform growth rates achieved by other Continental crossbreds.
In addition, BCCS has recognized Charolais has the potential as a functional suckler cow suited in particular to lowland units. This is supported by the fact that France has more than 1.2 million pure Charolais cows, while in Ireland, Charolais is the leading terminal sire in the suckler cow herd – both countries have escaped the market disruption cased by BSE and neither has an Over Thirty Months Scheme. A five year commercial field scale trial has been launched at SAC Bush to qualify the Charolais’ role as a suckler cow.
During the last 40 years, Charolais has evolved to match the British cattle industry’s requirements. British Charolais breeders have carefully selected for the breed’s key performance traits and also for ease of calving.
Charolais breed development became increasingly scientific and accurate from 1991 with the introduction of the BLUP procedure. Charolais was among the first breed organizations to endorse and implement BLUP. Since, support for the initiative has gained momentum as an increasing number of BCCS members performance record their cattle on the Signet Beefbreeder scheme.
In fact Charolais has been hailed leader in the genetic improvement stakes being the first beef breed in Britain to reach 250,000 cattle evaluations recorded by Signet using the BLUP procedure. The accompanying data revealed the breed has trebled its rate of genetic gain during the following 10 years.
The advent of Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) which describe the genetic potential of an animal for selected traits, has enabled Charolais breeders to select more accurately for performance traits as well as for ease of calving and other maternal characteristics. Recent BCCS sponsored trials with the Scottish Agricultural College, which were designed to put EBVs to the test, have concluded it is now possible to select a Charolais herd sire that will leave progeny which are easy to calve without compromising either growth rate or carcase composition.
BCCS is an advocate of the MLC’s Young Bull Promotion Scheme (YPBS) designed to promote genetic gain and improved selection differentials. A number of high performance bulls have been selected for use across the scheme and their resulting high genetic merit progeny have contributed towards the initiative’s key objectives.
Charolais also has a history of success in the show ring. At The Royal Show, Charolais has won the prestigious Burke beef interbreed trophy on more occasions than any other breed.
BCCS has played a leading role in establishing cattle populations in major beef producing countries worldwide. Prior to BSE, Charolais cattle, semen and embryos secured a ready export volume market in South Africa, South America – in particular Brazil, Australasia, Europe, and the USA where Charolais has recently been confirmed number one terminal sire.
Demand for British Charolais continues worldwide and BCCS is looking forward to resuming full export business as trading barriers continue to be lifted.
• The Charolais bull should be a well-muscled animal on good strong feet and legs to carry the heavy weights associated with the breed.
• The head should have a wide muzzle with a strong jaw placement.
• The eyes should be set reasonably wide apart.
• The ears should be big.
• The head should be sat proud on a strong muscular neck.
• The back should be long and level without dips, particularly behind the shoulder.
• There should be a good heart room and a minimum amount of brisket in the forequarter.
• The tail-setting should be set comfortably into good wide plates over the hindquarters of the bull.
• The hindquarters should also have a good depth of second thigh and should be well rounded.
• There can be two extreme types of Charolais which should be discouraged. One type would be the tall, flat sided bull which has a slack back and a poor hindquarter. This type has no place in modern day beef production and indeed never has. The second would be the double-muscled heavy shouldered bull which invariably has associated fertility and calving problems.
• The females should have a feminine appearance and should not be heavily muscled and masculine in appearance as this sort tends to be either poor or irregular breeders.
• The head should be wide muzzled with a longer rather than boxy type appearance. Like the bulls, the head should be alert.
• The back should be long and level with a good spring of rig and a minimum of brisket in the forequarter.
• The tail setting should not be dropped and preferably should be slightly raised as this is alleged to be associated with easier calving.
• The legs should be of strong flat bone on good sound feet.
• In the case of cows, the udder should be of good capacity with four well-formed teats for suckled calf production.
• The colour of Charolais Cattle is generally creamy white through to a light tan colour. Broken coloured cattle are not to be encouraged although this would be of secondary importance to skeletal structure and good conformation