Breed types: Charolais characteristics

Charolais cattle are one of the world’s finest beef cattle. They produce excellent quality beef and often are used to improve herds of other cattle breeds. In addition, they are good-natured, easy to travel, and adapt to various environmental changes.

The Charolais is a worldwide known suckler breed of beef cattle, it is a very tall and muscular beast. It is endowed with a beautiful white coat and weighs on average between 700 and 1,200 kgs. The Charolais is a world breed, world population is estimated at about 730,000.

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The origin

The Charolais originated in west-central to southeastern France, in the old French provinces of Charolles and neighboring Nievre. 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 popular in French markets. The Charolais breed was identified during the Middle Ages on the Charollais and Brionnais farmlands. It was chosen by the breeders of these regions for its strong, lean, muscle structure and exceptional growth potential. These traits were desirable all over the world in the first quarter of the 20th century. The Charolais cattle was originally used for agricultural work. It has become the best breed for beef production in the world.

How the French selected this breed of cattle?

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 utility.

Selection developed a white breed of cattle which, like other cattle of continental Europe, were used for draft, milk and meat.

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On the way to the world breed

Emile Maurice was the first breeder to understand the potential of the breed and during the 1950s spent lavishly to make the Charolais breed known in Europe and throughout the world. His sense of diplomacy, negotiation and acquired experience would make him the true ambassador for the Charolais breed for many years. His efforts successfully resulted in the exportation of Charolais breeding stock to numerous countries and the creation of a Charolais breeders association wherever the original core group was of sufficient size. In 1964, Emile Maurice proposed the creation of an The International Federation of these associations which would take the name of FIAERBC. In 1999, this federation would modernize its statutes and take the name of Charolais International. The object of the organization is to exchange the results of mutual experiences in the field of all breeding problems and promote the exchange of breeding animals.


The typical Charolais is white or creamy-white in color with a pink muzzle and pale hooves. They may have horns, but polled Charolais are preferred, especially among animals intended for feedlots, where horns can be dangerous to other cattle or people. This breed is long-bodied, and good milkers. The coat is long and slightly wavy during the winter but sheds in the spring to reveal a short, smooth coat for the warmer months. They have a deep chest, broad body, and strong, muscled hindquarters. There are now Charolais cattle being bred black and red in color. The average weight of males is 1000-1650 kg and that of females 700-1200 kg. The average height of the animals is 135-150 cm.

Charolais females are the best beef cattle breed for calving, as they are easy calvers and boast fine maternal instincts. Charolais females’ protective mothering instinct is quite strong.

Charolais are medium to large framed beef cattle with a very deep and broad body. They have a short, broad head and heavily muscled loins and haunches. Charolais have demonstrated growth ability, efficient feedlot gains, and carcass cut-out values. With excellent meat conformation, especially of the valuable parts and relative late maturity they are well suited to fattening for high finished weight.

The top meat-producer

The Charolais breed is sought not only for the quality of its rearing but also for its excellent meat. It comes in among the top meat-producing breeds, rivaled only by the Angus. 

The Charolais beef is vastly appreciated by connoisseurs for its extremely flavorsome meat which is tasty and tender. The rich flavor of this beef comes from its diet, which is a vegetable diet based on pasture, forage, and cereal.


Popular in crossbreeding programs

They are well suited to all-purpose crossbreeding. Crossbred calves bred from Charolais sires are hailed as successful and healthy, with high growth rates, and they often do well in contributing to commercial herds, too. Charolais bulls also are bred to Angus, Hereford, and Brahma cows to produce hardy offspring and improve herds. The offspring of such crosses typically retain the best aspects of the Charolais breed.

French bulls are popular

France, the cradle of the breed is at the forefront of breeding material exports. In Hungary, 90-95 percent of imported breeding bulls come from France, and deep-frozen semen is bought by Hungarian breeders from the Czech Republic and Canada, in addition to French imports. In the last three to four years, there has been a significant increase in imports of breeding bulls and heifers.

French genetics is used to improve the Charolais commodity production stock in Hungary – said Márton Török, the executive director of the National Association of Hungarian Charolais Cattle Breeders. “With French genetics, we can move forward in breeding, and while maintaining the existing positive maternal traits, we can effectively improve the frame and muscularity of the animals with it,” he added.

The optimal weight gain curve

Charolais, like Limousin, is a large-bodied terminal beef breed and can produce at about 2 kg/day in average, but up to 3 kg/day during fattening.

The weaning weight (bull: 240-260 kg, heifer: 220-240 kg) is usually reached by at the age of 205 days. In the case, where a calf nursery is also used during rearing, the weaning weight can be approach 300 kg, in the case of bulls it can be 350-400 kg.

This breed brings an average weight gain of 1,500-1,700 grams/day in all conditions, but in many cases, the daily weight gain of over 2,000 grams is easily achieved. In order to achieve adequate structural strength, it is not necessarily good for the breeding animals to gain 2 kg or more per day – the expert says.

The animals reach 600-650 kg at the age of one year, but the breed can be economically fattened up to 750-800 kg, since subcutan fat grows slower till that. Due to the fact that a heavier slaughter animal can be produced by the end of fattening, the specific cost of rearing and producing calves will be lower.

Why choose this beef breed?

  • They have an exceptionally high natural live weight gain
  • Enormous muscularity and fitness
  • Easy to handle in terms of temperament
  • Easy calving,
  • Ability to fit into any system: grassy or intense
  • Ability to withstand cold winters and warm summers, handle extreme weather conditions
  • Good ability to travel

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