Charolais was the first Continental breed of cattle to be introduced to the UK and it revolutionised 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 then female record price of 27,000gns at Carlisle in 1989.
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 DLWG, 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 AHDB’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 and is the breed that improves all breeds.
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.
During the last 60 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 Best Linear Unbiased Prediction (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/ABRI using the BLUP procedure. The accompanying data revealed the breed has trebled its rate of genetic gain during the following years.
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.
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 Background in DNA Testing
- 2000 – Started Microsatellite testing for parent verification
- March 2017 – The decision was made to begin testing all animals entering the herd book for parentage verification via SNP profiles and Myostatins
- 2017/2018 – Weatherbys Scientific was chosen as the laboratory to carry out DNA testing after a tender selection process.
- 2018 – Trials on Myostatin variants relative to Charolais were completed
- July 2018 – Every animal entered into the herd book which is used for breeding is at least sire verified and tested for Myostatin.
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.
10 Charolais Facts
- Charolais genetics arrived in Britain in 1959 smuggled in a thermos flask.
- The breed was known in the UK as “Charolais” until the British Charolais Cattle Society was officially established on the 27th July 1962.
- By the late 1960s, the industry realised that as few as 50 Charolais bulls would be required to service at any one time the entire number of MMB and private AI stations.
- The first ever Charolais bull calf to be born in Britain was recorded on 1 January 1967.
- Charolais was not introduced as a beef terminal sire on any significant commercial scale until the late 1960s.
- Charolais won the Burke Trophy, the Royal Show’s interbreed beef award for pairs, on a record 17 occasions.
- The price record 100,000gns Charolais bull, Vexour Garth was sold at Stirling in October 2012, by his breeder Jan Boomaars and was purchased by the Livestock Capital Partnership, USA.
- The Charolais breed has the lowest carbon use to finishing
- In 2011, Allanfauld Fizz, a 19 month old purebred heifer, was the first ever pedigree Charolais to secure the Royal Smithfield championship.
- The Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) recorded a 10% premium price for Charolais store cattle above other continental crosses