The History of Limousin Breed
history of Limousin cattle may very well be as old as the European continent itself. Cattle found in cave drawings estimated
to be 20,000 years old in the Lascaux Cave near Montignac, France, have a striking resemblance to today's Limousin.
These golden-red cattle are native to the south central part of France in the regions of Limousin and Marche. The
terrain of the homeland has been described as rugged and rolling with rocky soil and a harsh climate. Consequently, the growing
of field crops was very difficult at best and emphasis was placed on animal agriculture. Limousin cattle, as a result of their
environment, evolved into a breed of unusual sturdiness, health and adaptability. This lack of natural resources also enabled
the region to remain relatively isolated and the farmers free to develop their cattle with little outside genetic interference.
During these early times of animal power, Limousin gained well-earned reputation as work animals in addition to their
beef qualities. Rene Lafarge reported in 1698, "Limousin oxen were universally renowned and esteemed both as beasts of
burden and beef cattle." At the end of their work life these animals were then fattened for slaughter.
French cattle were kept in a confinement or semi-confinement situation. However, Limousin cattle spent the majority of their
time outdoors in the harsh climate of the region. This was a source of great pride to the breeders. The cows calved year round,
outdoors, to bring in a regular source of income and the heifers were bred to calve at three years of age. In the winter,
the entire herd was outside and whatever the season, the cattle were handled on a daily basis.
Once in the 1700s
and again in the mid-1800s, an attempt was made by a small number of French Limousin breeders to crossbreed their cattle in
hopes of gaining both size and scale. In 1840 several breeders crossbred their Limousin with oxen of Agenaise variety.
The resulting animals were taller, having more volume of muscling in their hindquarter. Unfortunately, however, these
crossbred cattle proved not to be economical as they needed a larger amount of feed than could be provided in the majority
of the region. Only near Limoges, where manure and fertilizers were plentiful and growing of field crops was widespread, did
these cattle prosper.
Limousin breeders admitted their mistake and then concentrated upon improving the breed through
natural selection. A leader in the natural selection movement was Charles de Leobary and his herdsman, Royer. Through a very
tough, selective process these two developed an outstanding herd of "purebred" Limousin. From 1854 to 1896 the de
Leobary herd won a total of 265 ribbons at the prestigious Bordeaux Competition, one of France's finest cattle shows.
Limousin cattle made a deep impression in French cattle shows during the 1850s. The first show wins were at the Bordeaux
Fair where Limousin took second and third places. The cattle belonged to the already mentioned de Leobary herd. Furthermore,
in 1857, '58 and '59, Limousin animals topped other breeds in some of the first carcass competitions at the farm produce
competition held at Poissy, near Paris. The reputation of Limousin as meat animals was firmly established. Today, Limousin
cattle are still referred to as the "butcher's animal" in France.