While storm Ophelia was ravaging the country, a group of over thirty Irish Aubrac breeders were visiting the Aveyron region in France, and home of the Aubrac cattle.
Central to the visit was the Laguiole Show, with over Aubrac cattle exhibited in the centre of the town, all haltered in long lines.
This year’s show was special, as it marked the 70th Anniversary of the unveiling of a bronze Aubrac bull in the square.
Well known AI bull Heritier was exhibited, and also another AI bull Joker. After the judging of some classes, a sale of 18 pedigree bulls and heifers took place, with a top price of €7000 for a 20 month old bull by Francou.
The bus trips started with a visit to the Benedictine Abbey in Aubrac village, where the breed was first developed in the 17th century. The Abbey had for centuries been a stop-off point on one of the Camino Pilgrimage routes, to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims were fed a meal made of bread soaked in fresh cheese, called Aligot. Aubrac cows provided the milk for the cheese, and draught bullocks were trained to work the land.
The breed was popular in these hill areas until the early 20th century. However after World War ll, competition from tractors and specialist dairy breeds saw interest in aubracs dwindle, until they came close to extinction by the 1970’s. But committed breeders got together, and in 1979 the Union Aubrac was formed. Since, the breed has grown rapidly, and today there are 207,000 Aubrac cows spread across France. Indeed the breed has travelled around the world to many countries, including Ireland.
The first farm visit was to David Cayrel’s farm in Le Buisson. The farm AI breeds 55% of the Aubrac herd to culard charolais. Of the progeny, the heifers are fattened at 30 months, for the Fleur d’Aubrac scheme.
They are finished on hay, and a specialist concentrate mix. One of the heifers shown, is expected to kill 550kg carcasss weight, and fetch €5 - €5.20/ kg. The other heifer, if successful on the showring, could be sold to a butcher for €7000. The Culard Charolais weanling bulls are live exported to Italy or Spain. The rest of the cows are bred to the Aubrac stock bull. Calving starts in December. While the weanlings and finishers are housed on slats, with a straw lie-back, the cows are stall-tied on concrete, with a metal grid to collect the slurry.
Their feet need to be good. The calves are removed from the cows (while in the shed), and suckle twice daily. Like most herds in the area the cows and calves are sent to the hills at the end of May, in a Festival known as Transhumance, and they spend the summer there.
The second farm visit brought the group to Severac le Chateau, and Les Vialettes farm. Hugo, one of the sons here, did some farm placements at the start of the year in Ireland. This farm, consisting of 168ha., has been organic since 1995.
The farm has 130ha. in grass, 17ha. alfalfa (lucerne), and 21ha. tillage. The tillage varies from barley, oats, triticale, peas, and vetches, all of which are used on the farm. The 65 cow suckler herd are Aubracs, and some Limousin, and the farm also has 12 arabian mares. Most of the calves are fattened at under 8 months.
They are fed milk, grass, and a mix of 2/3 home grown cereals and 1/3 organic concentrates. They are sold to the butcher or the cooperative with the following average weights and prices:
- Butcher - 160kg carcass €7/kg
- Cooperative - 190kg carcass €5.45/kg
The last two years, the farm has started selling some direct to the consumer. With a cost of €2.20/kg to kill and butcher the animal, the farm sells boxes, 5kg at €14/kg, and 10kg at €13/kg. A 750kg bullock killing 420kg, leaves 294kg saleable beef. These cattle are fed grass, hay(alfalfa), and 6kg/hd./day cereals.
Housing for the cows was a sheltered gravel yard, with access to an open bedded shed. Other cattle are housed in a shed with concrete feeding area (cleaned by an automatic scraper), and straw bedded lie-back.
The third farm visit was to the farm of Herve and Bernard Catays, just outside Laguiole. Aubrac Inspector, Philippe Labarbarie gave a presentation on the specific points of the breed. The group viewed AI bull, Heritier’s dam, Usange, who at 13 years looked a very fresh and functional cow. Auriva, the French AI company (not to be confused with Aurivo, the Irish dairy company), had reps on hand to give a presentation on the available Aubrac AI bulls. These included Heureux, Duroc, Jintou, Jupiter, Joker, and Capitain. This farm had a huge shed, and handling facilities for the 165 cow herd.
The final visit was to Chaudes Aigues, and the farm of Union Aubrac President, Yves Chassany. This is a difficult farm, where the ground was very dry, and soil quality poor. The farm converted to organic three years ago. The emphasis is very much on breed selection, and the priority being a good maternal cow. The home farm provides good spring grazing before the cattle are sent to the hills for the summer.
Speaking with That’s Farming, James Donnellan Chairman of Irish Aubrac Cattle Society said:
“This was an excellent tour, seeing a region with some spectacular scenery, where agriculture and Aubrac cattle are very much the heart of the community. The weather and the welcome was warm, and we were fed very well. Oh, and the cattle looked very good!” James said.
“Thanks to our secretary, Mireille McCall, for organising this tour, and members of the Union Aubrac for facilitating us and treating us to dinner to finish the tour.” James added.