- The Charolais breed of cattle is used quite often in Ireland, bred commonly amongst farmers and often reported as the leading terminal sire for suckler cow herds.
- The continental cattle are thought to have originated in a French area near Burgundy called Charolles, first being recognised around 800 AD!
- The cattle are usually white or cream-coloured, with broad chests and well-defined hindquarters. Charolais are quite large compared to their continental counterparts, weighing in at an average of 900kg for cows and 1,100kg for bulls. In fact, one Charolais bull was rumoured to have reached a weight of 2 tonne! Their distinctive colour is often considered a good advantage for farmers of the breed, as the easy identification can help the sale of cattle.
- They’re naturally horned, which is something important to consider before purchasing Charolais for your herd. Some farmers may not want to go through the effort of dehorning their cattle, but if animals are in close proximity to each other then it may be safer to do so.
- The cattle are suited to the Irish climate, as they can thrive in changeable weather throughout the year with the help of their adaptable coat. It maintains a longer, thicker coat of hair in colder winter months, but usually sheds into a sleeker, shorter coat as the weather improves in summer. Since Ireland is home to quite temperamental weather, the ability to thrive in an unusually harsh winter or exceptionally sweltering summer is a good advantage.
- The hooves of Charolais cattle are very sturdy, making them suitable for uneven or rugged and rocky terrain. In some mountainous regions of Ireland, this is something to benefit from when choosing Charolais.
- The temperament of Charolais cattle is something of a disadvantage. The cattle are known for aggressive tendencies with some fighting between themselves, and they can be flighty at times. Since their protective mothering instinct is quite strong, the dams can be risky to deal with when their offspring is nearby. Bulls of this breed can be quite a serious threat to farmers and other visitors; however, increased safety around bulls of any breed is always encouraged. Read our article on Bull Safety here.
- Calves are usually very hardy, and weigh quite a lot when born. The calving process is usually simple and without complications. This is a big advantage for farmers who worry about the tricky business of calving, especially on a one-person farm!
- However, it’s vital to note that there are reports of reproductive issues with some Charolais cattle, where dystocia (difficult birthing) or prolapse can occur. This causes many problems to arise and should be investigated thoroughly by farmers with pregnant cows.
- Because of the large size of Charolais cattle, cross-breeding with considerably smaller cows should be avoided at all costs!
- There are also some difficulties reported in Charolais cattle with regards to their genetics. In areas with abundant sunshine, Charolais cattle may suffer due to their light colouring. Sunburns can affect the breed, and they are unfortunately susceptible to cancer of the eye, and cases of pinkeye can be quite common.
- Charolais cattle are praised for their carcass’ high yield and good quality meat. Their intramuscular fat also contributes to excellent edible quality in their beef cuts.
- The cattle grow quickly, and are excellent at fast weight-gain. Their big appetite can hinder some farmers, however. The need to provide constant high levels of food can drain resources if farmers are not sufficiently prepared. However, the cattle have the ability to graze efficiently on most pastures, and they convert their feed to muscle with ease. This is important for farmers whose land is less than suitable for other breeds who would struggle to nourish themselves properly on their farm.
- Charolais cattle usually mature quite late; this can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on the farmer’s needs. The breed may be suited to farms where a consistent, steady flow of available beef is needed, unless producers wish to complete the process in shorter, intense periods.
- This breed of cattle often does well in contributing to dairy herds across Ireland. Dairy calves bred from Charolais sires are often hailed as successful and healthy, with high growth rates.
To read more about the Charolais breed, be sure to check out the Irish Charolais Cattle Society website.
It’s also worthwhile taking a look at our Beef Cattle: Choosing the Right Breed for You article, for a more general look at how to pick a suitable breed.