Origins of the Breed
The Charolais originated in west-central to southeastern France, in the old French
provinces of Charolles and neighboring Nievre. The exact origins of the Charolais are lost
to us but it must have been developed from cattle found in the area. Legend has it that
white cattle were first noticed in the region as early as 878 A.D., and by the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries were well and favorably known in French markets, especially at
Lyon and Villefranche. Selection developed a white breed of cattle which, like other
cattle of continental Europe, were used for draft, milk and meat.
The cattle were generally confined to the area in which they originated until the
French Revolution. But, in 1773, Claude Mathieu, a farmer and cattle producers from the
Charolles region, moved to the Nievre province, taking his herd of white cattle with him.
The breed flourished there, so much so that the improved cattle were known more widely as
Nivemais 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 Bouille. His selective breeding led him to set up a herd book in 1864 for the
breed 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
organization holding the records of the later group into their headquarters at Nevers, the
capital of the Nievre province.
The French have long selected their cattle for size and muscling. They selected for
bone and power to a greater extent than was true in the British Isles. The French breeders
stressed rapid growth in addition to cattle that would ultimately reach a large size.
These were men that wanted cattle that not only grew out well but could be depended upon
for draft power. Little attention was paid to refinement, but great stress was laid on
The Charolais of France are white in color, horned, long bodied, and good milkers with
a general coarseness to the animal not being uncommon.
Introduction to the United States
Soon after the First World War, a young Mexican industrialist of French name and
ancestry, Jean Pugibet, brought some of the French cattle to his ranch in Mexico. He had
seen the Charolais cattle during World War I while serving as a French army volunteer and
was impressed by their appearance and productivity. He arranged for a shipment of two
bulls and 10 heifers to Mexico in 1930. Two later shipments in 1931 and 1937 increased the
total number to 37 - eight bulls and 29 females. Not long after the last shipment, Pugibet
died and no further imports were attempted.
The first Charolais to come into the United States from Mexico are believed to be two
bulls, Neptune and Ortolan, which were purchased from Pugibet by the King Ranch in Texas
and imported in June 1936. Later imports of bulls were owned by some of the early
"pioneers" in the industry: Harl Thomas, Fred W. Turner, C.M. "Pete"
Frost, M.G. Michaelis Sr., and I.G. "Cap" Yates, all of Texas, J.A.
"Palley" Lawton of Louisiana, and others.
In the mid-1940s an outbreak of Hoof and Mouth Disease occurred in Mexico. As a result,
a treaty between the United States, Canada and Mexico set up a permanent quarantine
against cattle coming into any of these countries from Europe or any country in which Hoof
and Mouth Disease was known to exist. This barred any further importation of French
Charolais on this continent until 1965 when Canada opened the import doors via rigid
quarantine both in France and in Canada.
Development in the United States
Until the mid-1960s, all the Charolais in Mexico, the United States and Canada were
descendants of this initial Pugibet herd. Due to the limited number of original animals
and the import restrictions which were in place, they have been crossed on other cattle in
an upgrading process. Because of the use of the upgrading process few of the Charolais
cattle currently found in the United State are of pure French breeding. With the
lightening of the import restrictions in Canada in the mid-1960's fullblood Charolais were
again imported from France. This allowed for the importation of new bloodlines from
France. This meant new genetic material for tightly-bred Charolais pedigrees of the time.
Several breeding herds were estabilished in Canada, as well as the island of Eleuthera, in
the Bahamas. Japan, England and Ireland also imported purebred Charolais directly from
France. Offspring from these herds were later imported to the United States.
American Charolais are referred to as "purebred" or "recorded"
depending upon the percentage of known Charolais blood. The term purebred is used
on those that carry 31/32 or more Charolais blood and those less than 31/32 can be
referred to as recorded. People wishing to develop a herd will still find it possible to
upgrade, using purebred Charolais sires, a foundation cow herd of one of the other cattle
breeds or their crosses. Five generations of purebred bulls are required to produced the
31/32 level for classification as "purebred". Sires used in the grading-up
process must be registered. The offspring from the first as well as succeeding generations
must be registered as "recorded" until they reach the 31/32 level at which time
they are referred to as purebred.
It has been said that no other breed has impacted the North American beef industry so
significantly as the introduction of Charolais. The Charolais came into widespread use in
the United States cattle industry at a time when producers were seeking larger framed,
heavier cattle than the traditional British breeds. The increased use on the range
indicates that the cows have performed well under a variety of environmental conditions.
Their ability to walk, graze aggressively in warm weather, withstand reasonable cold, and
raise heavy calves has drawn special praise from many that have them. Bulls have developed
a well-earned reputation when used in grading-up for herd improvement. This is especially
noted when they are used in herds where size and ruggedness are lacking
Charolais are white or creamy white in color, but the skin carries appreciable
pigmentation. The hair coat is usually short in summer but thickens and lengthens in cold
weather. Charolais is a naturally horned beef animal. But through the breeding-up program,
where naturally polled breeds were sometimes used as foundation animals, polled Charolais
have emerged as an important part of the breed. Charolais cattle are large with mature
bulls weighing from 2,000 to well over 2,500 pounds and cows weigh from 1,250 to over
Briggs, H.M. & D.M. Briggs. Modern Breeds of Livestock. Fourth Edition. Macmillan
Publishing Co. 1980
Promotional material, American-International Charolais Association, Kansas City, MO
American-International Charolais Association, Kansas City, MO