Written by David Bell
How about that! We have a famous cowgirl in the family; a cattle expert and nationally recognized Charolais breeder. Our own Jan Marie Bell was the cover and main article in the October 2015 Bay of Plenty Coast and Country News. She has come a long way from her early beginnings in the tricky, skillful, and often expensive business of specialized cattle breeding. I remember those first days when her brother Mac and his wife Pat were Charolais breeders in Pirongia and from whom she took her first tentative steps into the trade by buying their cheaper, lower quality stock to begin her own small herd. From these she slowly developed her pedigree through years of learning and selective breeding. For those of us who know little or nothing of breeding Charolais cattle, a little background information might be useful.
A French Breed
As the name suggests, the Charolais is a French breed with its origins in the provinces of Charolles and neighboring Nievre. It's a strong-boned and heavily muscled beast, mild in temperament and generally white in color. And big. A bull can get to 1,100 kilograms or more with the heaviest on record reaching two tons! A cow can weigh in at 900 kilograms. That's a lot of beef.
|The French Charolais - cow and calf.|
In 1840 Count Charles de Bouille began a program of selective breeding then set up a record book in 1864 at Villars near the village of Magny-Cours. As the breed improved and established, more breeders climbed on the bandwagon and a rival breeders society emerged back in Charolles. Eventually, however, the two merged with headquarters in Nievre.
As far as cattle were concerned, the French always preferred bulk, bone and muscle to refinement. They needed cattle that could be used to pull carts and plows as well as produce meat and milk. The Charolais was ideally suited to their needs being both powerful draft animals as well as good milkers and meat producers. Charolais' also had big calves that grew fast and had more raw strength than the more refined English cattle.
Charolais' go Global
Soon after World War One a young Mexican industrialist of French ancestry (Jean Pugibet) purchased some of these French cattle and had them shipped to his ranch in Mexico. He had seen them while fighting for France during the war and was greatly impressed by their beauty, size and potential. He survived the war and took possession of two bulls and ten cows in his first shipment. Two later shipments took his total to thirty seven. Unfortunately, he died suddenly in 1936 and the Mexican experiment faltered.
However, a year before his death the King ranch in Texas purchased two bulls from him. A few other American ranchers followed suit soon after, These Mexican Charolais' spawned the establishment of the breed in the United States. However, an outbreak of the deadly foot-and-mouth disease in Europe halted any further importing of livestock from Europe, Mexico and elsewhere. The Americans then took to cross breeding their Charolais in an 'upgrading' program. As a result the bloodlines were thinned and few American Charolais' could boast pure French pedigree. Later, when the restrictions were lifted, French importing resumed. Now, American Charolais are categorized 'purebred' or 'recorded', depending on the percentage of known blood. Purebred Charolais are those with 31/32 or more Charolais blood, while those termed 'recorded' have less than 31/32 Charolais blood. It is said that no other breed has impacted so significantly on the American beef industry as the Charolais, valued for its size, rapid growth rate, ruggedness and lean meat.
From the U.S. A. it was just a short hop into Canada. Today, Charolais are found in at least sixty eight countries around the world. In France they are the second most common breed after Holsteins with the largest worldwide populations being in the Czech Republic and Mexico.
Charolais in New Zealand
The first Charolais' to New Zealand arrived not in a pen on a ship but by plane in a frozen container. In other words, as semen sent in 1965 after a Charolais conference in France attended by a handful of New Zealanders who were so impressed by the breed that they determined to introduce it into the New Zealand beef scene. Unable to ship cattle due to the current import restrictions on live animals, they managed to at least have semen samples sent to the Lincoln and Ruakura research centers for trialing. The first private breeder was J. M. Sullivan of Waimate, one of the attendees at the French conference. He managed to acquire some commercial semen in 1966. Then, from 1969 the importation of live animals (predominantly from Great Britain) was allowed and 61 bulls and 302 cows were purchased by interested buyers in New Zealand. By 1981 the breed was firmly established here.
The majority of the imported English stock had been 'graded up' by using a pure French Charolais sire over a base Angus, Fresian (Holstein) or Hereford cow. Using this method purebred status (31/32) could be achieved. By this method a specific New Zealand Charolais has been developed keeping the typical Charolais growth rate and muscle but better suited to New Zealand beef production systems.
Over forty years ago on Wednesday, 4th September 1968 in the Oamaru RSA clubrooms, the first New Zealand Charolais Cattle Society (NZCCS) was formed with J. M. Sutherland of Waimate nominated President. Today there are Charolais breeders throughout the country, one of whom is our own Jan Bell. The best way to learn more about Jan's enterprise is from the article in the Coast & Country by Elaine Fisher and transcribed here for reader convenience.
Title: 'Granny farm' realisation of a 20-year dream
Although she's far too young to retire, Jan Bell enjoys her pure bred Charolais cows, calves and bulls so much she's delighted to have given up full time paid employment to stay on the farm and look after them. "Not that they take a lot of looking after to be honest. After 20 years of owning and working on this property it's finally at the point where I call it my 'granny farm' because it's so easy to run," says Jan.
The Crawford Road property, home to the well-respected pedigree Wairoa Stud, is 'easy care' because in between full- time employment Jan worked hard to set up the farm including restructuring fencing and water reticulation.
In 2009 she was joined by Graeme Daniel who added to the mix his knowledge of pasture management and renovation, stock grazing, crops and grasses and "lots of other 'farmie' things like cutting our silage and doing tractor work that I am too scared to handle," says Jan.
At one time in her working career, and before she owned the farm, Jan was a legal executive, then for a while a stay-at-home mum bringing up three children before she began work in the kiwifruit industry. "I worked mainly in the quality and auditing field and studied for a post graduate diploma in quality systems, going on to be a tutor teaching post-harvest horticulture and quality control at the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic.
In 2013, when due to the impacts of the kiwifruit vine disease, Psa-v, student numbers dropped. Jan happily accepted redundancy becoming for the first time a full-time farmer. Her love of Charolais' began when she helped her family show pedigree animals at A and P field days.
"I enjoyed the shows, still do. It's a lot of hard work getting the animals ready, and it's great to win. Losing is also great - once you get over the impact - because you take a long hard look at the winners and figure out what you can do better next time."
All of the Wairoa Stud's purebred animals are recorded.Calves are weighed at birth then at 200, 400 and 600 days and each assessed by her expert eye for confirmation.
The stud's breeding cows are moderately framed with good bone, good muscling and are structurally sound. " All cows must be manageable so good temperament is essential. We use French, Irish and New Zealand genetics in the breeding herd."
Jan ranks temperament highly. "Most of the time I'm working with the animals on my own so I want to know I'm safe. I have no problem picking up calves to weigh and ear tag at birth, in fact, the mothers seem to treat me a bit like an auntie and wander off to the next paddock expecting me to bring the calf along."
The mothering traits of her cows, their ability to produce plenty of milk for their offspring and their longevity is also important. Jan's bulls are used as terminal sires, crossing with other breeds, predominantly Angus, Hereford cows or dairy beef cows.
"Recently there's been a demand for polled animals from our buyers so we breed and use sires that will produce polled cattle. We will keep any dam, polled or horned, who proves herself a good breeder and a good mother. Our goal is to ensure that the bulls we sell as terminal sires will be structurally sound and create no calving problems over mixed breed cows. The calves they sire will be early maturing, well-muscled cattle. To achieve this goal we use American or Canadian genetics over our French cows. The resulting calves are often polled and are smoother in the shoulder than the dams."
Wairoa bulls go to farms all over the North Island and six or seven clients have standing orders for the animals.
The herd of fifty, including thirty breeding cows, is raised on the twenty hectares of home farm and local land which has contours from flat to rolling to steep.
Jan is on the council of the New Zealand Charolais Cattle Society (NZCCS), established in 1968 and a keen advocate of the breed which she says is known for its quiet temperament, growth rate, muscle and meat quality. Next year Jan is helping to organize a stand for the Society at the Mystery Creek Field Days. "Sadly there are no longer many animals at the field days so we plan to have Charolais' on show."
Wairoa Charolais are trained for showing at an early age and Jan enjoys attending A&P shows. "I think it's important for the public to be able to see and enjoy the animals. You also learn a lot from the judges who are happy to tell you what's right and what's wrong with your animals," says Jan, who is a judge herself. "Also, it's a good bench-marking tool and a social day out meeting other breeders.
The advent of EBV's (estimated breeding values)has been beneficial but had reduced the number of breeders showing animals now. "That's a pity because you can't judge temperament and overall confirmation from figures on paper and I think it's important especially for young people to learn how to judge by eye."
As well as rearing purebred calves, Jan uses the old five-aside herringbone dairy on the farm to milk a small herd of dairy cows to provide milk for the calves she buys in to rear. When the calves are gone, Jan and a group of friends milk a few cows and get together to make cheeses from halloumi to feta to mozzarella.
"We have a lot of fun. Cheese making and gardening are two things I really enjoy now which I didn't have time for when I was working full-time."
End of the article.
Needless to say we should all be pretty proud of Jan's accomplishments. She has carved out her own little paradise of peace and plenty up Crawford Road, near Tauranga. It's a delightful property; a self-sustaining small farm complete with chickens, ducks and other sundry poultry, cattle (beef and dairy), sheep, pigs and horses. Wildlife abounds in the form of native and exotic birds (complete with flocks of colourful Rosella parrots making the place seem almost tropical) and eels and trout in the river that runs through the farm. The river is also a favourite swimming place during the hot summer months. The rich black soil also produces lush pasture all year round and her gardens burst their bounds with vegetables, melons, and all manner of edibles. She has an orchard that every year provides more pip and stone fruits than she could ever use: apples, nectarines, peaches, plums and avocados, to mention a few.
Hers is the perfect example of the abundant life and the abundance of life where nature rewards those who roll up their sleeves, put on their gumboots and got to work with joy and respect for the good things right under their feet and all around them.
I reckon she's in a pretty happy place right now and good for her, she deserves it!
This is another article in the NZ Farmer May 26 2016.
Where performance matches the muscles
Anne Boswell visits a small but highly regarded charolais stud with a two-year waiting list for a bull.
THE CHAROLAIS BREED has had its fair share of ups and downs as New Zealand breeders have worked to establish it as the first choice for use as a terminal sire, but a Tauranga farmer has shown the utmost faith as she continues to improve her herd. Charolais breeder Jan Bell owns and leases the 36 hectares on which Wairoa Charolais Stud lies and has great admiration for the animals that she says are unbeatable as terminal sires. She was brought up on a dairy farm near Pirongia in the Waikato, but the farm was sold when her parents retired so she found a new path as a legal executive.