This week on weird cow breeds, we look at the bovine thought to have been bred by the Vikings.
Normande cattle are most famous for their milking ability and cheese production. The breed hails from Normandy, in the North West of France. This area is famed for its Viking heritage and many believe that the Vikings themselves were the ones to introduce ancestors of the Normande breed.
The breed wasn’t officially recognized until approximately 1800, though know there is an estimated 1.2 million of the breed, outside of their native France!
Although some suggest that the breed maybe ancestors of an old Viking breed, others say the breed is a result of the crossbreeding of local dairy breeds. It is thought this is the result of crossing the Cauchoise, the Augeronne and the Cotentine, French breeds no longer in existence.
It is thought either of these breeds may have been crossed with the Durham breed(shorthorn) as they were imported from England in the early 1800’s. There are varying accounts of the breed’s history, though there is no definite fact on the matter. A herdbook on the breed was first started in 1883, with performance testing for bulls introduced in 1952.
The Normande is a prestigious breed in France and herd books show that there was almost 5 million of the breed in the 1960’s, which made up to one-quarter of the national herd. A recent survey carried out on the breed found that there was 2.1 million left in France in 2005.
The breed, over the years, has been exported all around the world and has thrived in every environment. The breed has proven its versatility in areas such as South America, Western Europe, Central Europe, North America and even Asia.
Exports to the South American continent began as far back as 1877, with Columbia having the highest population of the breed outside its home nation. The breed was first imported into Brazil in 1923, where it was then crossed with a local zebuine breed to create the ‘Normanzu’ hybrid.
The Normande has been exported to many countries and is present on all continents.
They are probably best known for their speckled red coat. They usually have mainly white bodies, with red/orange freckles or spots dotting their coat. They can vary in colour though, but usually, have a black or brown pied coat.
Their eyes are surrounded by lunettes or dark pigmented circles, which give them a distinctive look. Similar to the Hereford breed their heads are mainly white. Sometimes this can vary, with instances of speckled brown patches on their faces.
They can have various shades of coats, all of which have different names. Those with predominantly white coats and few brown or red patches are called “brindled”. Meanwhile, those who are mostly brown are called “trouted”. Finally, those animals with equal red and white and brown patches are called “blond”. These blond types are considered by many to be the true representation of the breed.
They have good longevity, which helps cut down on herd replacement costs. They also reach sexual maturity at an early age and remain fertile for years after, allowing for more calves per cow.
Their hardy feet and legs mean that tough terrains aren’t a problem, and their coat thickens and curls in winter to help insulate their bodies. Sun damage to the eyes from solar exposure is avoided by their dark-pigmented eye area.Their north-western French origins have ensured that harsh and damp winters with little foraging opportunities can’t limit their growth.
They are renowned for their grazing ability, which is highly commended.
They are also a quite docile animal, though females can get aggressive when their young are close. Bulls, like all breeds, should be treated with caution.
They are easy calvers, due to their larger pelvic area, which means they can sometimes calf with little to no assistance. Calves only weigh between 30-43kgs at birth, making it easier for the cow during labour.
Milk and cheese production:
Though the breed is best known for its dairy capacities, they are also very popular among beef farmers also. They are mainly used for dairy though. Their milking ability is excellent, and the famous Camembert cheese comes from Normande cow milk.
As dairy animals, they can produce about 6,300kg of milk per lactation. Their milk has about 3.5% protein and 4.4% fat, with a 4.2% butterfat content. The reason their milk is so suitable for cheese-making is due to high levels of casein beta and kappa. The curdling quality is increased, and it helps to make the distinctive texture of cheeses such as Camembert, Livarot, and Pont-Lévêque. There is also an ideal ratio of calcium to phosphate in their milk. All of these factors contribute to 15-20% higher cheese yields per kilogram of milk.
Normande beef is enjoyed by many consumers worldwide, as it has great marbling quality which adds to tenderness. The breed also has a high meat to waste (like bone and fat) ratio, allowing for a higher percentage yield when slaughtered. The breed is average in size compared to their continental counterparts, with cows weighing about 700kg. Bulls, however, can reach about 1,100kg.
Famed for their cheese, loved for their kind and docile nature. The Normande is best known for its ability to withstand most climates, sounds similar to that of the Viking, eh?