Salers Cattle Society

BREED HISTORY

Salers (pronounced Sa’lairs) originate in the Southern half of the Massif Central in the Auvergne region of South Central France. It has a rough and variable climate, and though higher, 2000-6000 ft, is very similar to our Lake District and the Highlands of Scotland and Wales. As topography allowed for little grain production the selection of Salers cattle was forced to focus on those that thrive on forage. Paleolithic cave paintings at Lascaux suggest that a similar type of animal has been bred in the area for 17,000 years. They appear to be closely related to the old Celtic and African breeds, and were probably located in the Massif Central when red cattle migrated from Africa through the Iberian Peninsular and on into northern Europe and the British Isles. With such a unique background, the breed is considered to be one of the oldest and most genetically pure of all European breeds.

Until modern times Salers cattle were respected not only as beef animals, but as milk producers for cheese products and also draught animals. In France today, only 9% of the Salers herds are still milked, the remainder being used for beef production. The breed is numerically France’s largest “hardy breed” with 210,000 cows of which 25,800 are registered and performance recorded. Until the 1960’s the region and its cattle remained very isolated, this perpetuated the historic cheese and weanling system. Since the area was too remote to supply a liquid market the Salers milk was converted to high quality/ high value cheese (St. Nectaire and Cantal for example) particularly when the cattle and the stockmen moved to summer grazing in the mountains. Selection was for cheese quality milk and conformation.

In upland conditions where meal feeding is minimal cows average 3,000-4,000 litres at 3.58% butterfat and 3.3% protein while simultaneously weaning a 300 kg suckler calf. Heifer calves are generally kept on, some for replacements but mostly for sale in-calf to lowland farmers at 2½ to 3 years old. While lucrative this historic system is labour intensive, not least since milk let down is poor without a few preliminary sucks and the presence of the calf (attached to the left front leg) during milking. Nevertheless most French breeders consider the preservation of the nucleus important to retain the breed’s milk capacity.

SALERS IN THE UK

In the spring of 1984, a herd of Salers was founded in Cumbria – 60 females and 4 bulls with as wide a genetic base as possible. Consequently, heifers by 45 different sires and 4 bulls completely unrelated to each other were imported into the U.K. from France.

All the cattle were first choices. Growth rate, docility, femininity, straight top lines and correct legs were the main criteria for selection. All dams, and grand-dams where possible, were inspected and had to come up to the same standard. In that importation were two females carrying the poll factor. All lived up to expectations, bred and gave no calving problems whatsoever.

From the original importation Salers cattle quickly spread all over the British Isles from the Shetlands to Cornwall and Ireland. The Salers Cattle Society of the U.K. was formed by Bryan Walling, Robert Hudson, Fiona Walling, Thomas Dobson and Bruce Worsley of Crosthwaite, Kendal.

The first AGM was held in November 1986, at that point there were a mere 10 members. Bryan Walling was elected as first Chairman. Since then the breed has continued to expand with approximately 1000 pedigree Salers being registered annually by 175 members.

BREED IMPROVEMENT

Devons, Durhams (Shorthorns) and West Highland cattle were imported into the Salers area in the mid 19th Century with the intention of improving the breed. At the same time a M. Tyssandier D’Escous challenged the introduction of outside blood and set about improving the Salers by selecting from within the breed. His method was considered most successful, and he became known as the Father of the Breed. A statue honouring his work stands in the middle of the small medieval town of  Salers from which the breed takes its name.

From that time until well into the 20th century the breed was improved and developed as a triple purpose animal, Milk-Meat-Draught.  In 1925 milk recording became compulsory and weight recording started in 1962. Resulting from all this improvement and recording has emerged the ideal suckler cow with bred-in foraging ability, able to utilise and thrive on native grasses and forage both summer and winter.

Modern genetic analysis shows that the effect of this importation, if any, was very small. Indeed one study shows that there is 400 times more Shorthorn blood in Charolais than Salers. 

 

Member Map

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Breed Journal

Our 2020 Breed Journal is now available to view online.

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2020 Bull Calves

The year letter for bull calves registered in 2020 is "P"

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