One of the oldest of the several breeds of French cattle, Charolais was developed in the district around Charolles in Central France. The breed became established there and achieved considerable regard as a producer of highly rated meat in the markets at Lyon and Villefranche in the 16th and 17th centuries. There also is historical evidence that these white cattle were being noticed as early as 878 A.D. The cattle were generally confined to that area until after the French Revolution. However, in 1773, Claude Mathieu, a farmer and cattle breeder from the Charolles region, moved to the Nievre province, taking with him his herd of Charolais.
The breed flourished there, so much so that the improved cattle were known more widely as Nivernais cattle for a time than by their original name of Charolais. One of the early influential herds in the region was started in 1840 by the Count Charles de Bouile. His selective breeding led him to set up a herd book in 1864 for the breed at his stable at Villars near the village of Magny-Cours. Breeders in the Charolles vicinity established a herd book in 1882. The two societies merged in 1919, with the older organisation taking the records of the later group into their headquarters at Nevers, the capital of the Nievre province.
Charolais were the first European breed to enter Australia, by way of semen imports from the UK, and live animals from New Zealand, in 1969. In Australia, their numbers grew from the first calf, born in 1970, until there are now about 19,000 active registered breeding females in the Australian herdbook and 800 members Australia wide.
Australian Charolais continued to develop with the introduction of Charolais semen from Canada, as well as the continuing use of French/UK bulls. New Zealand also was ahead of Australia in numbers of purebred animals and many animals were imported to Australia.
Early stock imported to Australia were carefully selected, which has since meant that the modern Australian Charolais is extremely well suited to our conditions. Within just ten years of the first crossbred calf being born in Australia, the breed was recognised by commercial and stud producers alike for its top performance.
In 1980, Charolais proved they were indeed a force to be reckoned with when they won the prestigious Hordern Trophy for the first time. Several more wins in this competition and many more Interbreed wins around Australia, including an unrivaled 13 wins at Brisbane Royal, have confirmed that Charolais are unbeatable for depth of quality. Their correctness, growth for age, masculinity in males, and femininity and milking ability in females can not be surpassed by any breed.
Since dominating the show ring, Charolais continue to be recognised in the commercial market place. In 2005, over $10 Million worth of Charolais bulls were sold at public auctions around the Country, demonstrating the importance and relevance of this great breed of cattle. (This increase to almost $12 Million in 2006).
Charolais sired calves are continually comanding top prices in the saleyards, while commercial cattlemen “in the know” are using Charolais and selling the progeny directly to feedlotters and abattoirs, who are paying premiums for their growth and yield attributes.
The Charolais ability to sire consistent carcasses is also being proved again and again, indicated by the eagerness of processors to source Charolais sired calves. The quality of these carcasses has been proved on numerous occasions, with Charolais carcasses winning Grand Champion awards at prominent carcass competitions.
Charolais continue to positively influence profitablity in all sectors of the beef supply chain.