The Tarentaise breed originated in the northern French Alps. The breed developed in relative isolation of other cattle breeds over several centuries because of the geographic isolation of the area. The hardy cattle were well adapted to the steep and rugged terrain and developed as a dual-purpose breed. They were easy-calving and good producers of high quality milk, but had tight udders and finger-sized teats that maintained their shape year after year. They developed a very long lactation period and milk with a very high percentage of butterfat. Foraging on the rugged terrain at elevations that ranged between 300 and 2400 masl allowed them to develop a robust cardiovascular system and natural muscling and marbling. The breed became known for their heavy muscling in the hip region, as well as exceptional length from hook to pins.
Tarentaise are a moderate-sized breed that reaches their mature size earlier than most other breeds. The harsh environment where they originated meant the calves had to be hardy and vigorous at birth and up nursing within minutes. Dark pigmentation of their mucous membranes, udder and extremities protected the cattle from the sun. They also developed hard black hooves and excellent feet from scaling the rugged terrain. Their enhanced fertility, resistance to disease and other traits discussed above resulted in cattle with increased longevity.
In the early 1900’s some Tarentaise cattle were exported from France to some of the drier areas of Africa. Despite the harsh, unproductive environments that they went to, the cattle did well. This reconfirmed the breed’s ability to perform well in harsh environments
In the early 1970’s when many other European breeds (e.g., Maine Anjou, Simmental, Limousin, and Chianina) were being imported into Canada, the Tarentaise breed became one of the favorites imported to North America.
The first Tarentaise bull, Alpin, was imported to Canada in 1972. In the following years many more bulls and cows were imported to Canada and the U.S. Because the fullblood and crossbred calves resulting from imported parent stock brought a premium, AI’ing cows to the exotic breeds became popular among ranchers in Canada and the U.S. It didn’t take long before there were a lot of Tarentaise and crossbred Tarentaise cattle on the ground in Canada and the U.S.
By the 1980’s when the prices for the exotic cattle cooled, Tarentaise had become well-established and were here to stay. The breed became popular among ranchers for the enhanced hybrid vigour of the calves when crossed with the traditional British breeds. They were also liked for the mothering abilities of the moderate-sized cows that raised fast-gaining and well-muscled calves. Many cow-calf producers also liked the easy-calving and low maintenance cows that produced the fast-gaining calves that compared well against the larger exotic breeds at weaning time. The feedlot owners also liked how the well-muscled calves continued to gain well in the feedlot and reached their mature weight quickly.
The Tarentaise breed has many traits that today’s commercial producers often select for. These include: moderate-sized cows (mature weights between 1100 and 1300 lbs) with excellent udder and teat conformation while maintaining that high level of milk production calf after calf; cows that winter well and maintain their conditioning even when nursing a 600 lb calf; cows that produce well-muscled calves that are approximately 50% of their dams weight by 200 days of age; quiet, docile cattle that are easy to handle; high fertility rates; heifer and bull calves with birth weights of 70 to 85 lbs, and 75 to 90 lbs, respectively; calves that are hardy and vigorous at birth and usually up and nursing within 5-10 minutes; and heifers that mature early and able to calve unassisted by 23-25 months of age.
These are traits that should fit in well with most commercial herds and we are confident that the commercial breeder who uses Tarentaise bloodlines into their herd will be very pleased with the result.
A good source of information about the traits of Tarentaise cattle is a brochure that was produced by the American Tarentaise Association that is available for downloading by clicking the link down below. The brochure discusses breed characteristics including information about the efficiency of the breed, feedlot and carcass data from purebreds and crossbreds, and the results of some university research comparing Tarentaise to other cattle breeds.