Breed History

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The Tarentaise Cattle Breed – Origins and History

In secluded valleys of the northern French Alps, in a rugged mountainous area where today the French, Italian and Swiss borders come together, a breed of cattle developed from ancient Alpen herds. The breed, with the common name of Tarine, was likely the result of the crossbreeding of Bos taurus Alpinus and Bos taurus Jurassicus. The bloodlines of both descended from an even more ancient cattle line either out of Indo-Asia that made it’s way to Western Europe, or out of Morocco through Spain, the migration taking place long before the time of the Roman Empire.

The ancestors of the Tarine, or Tarentaise, settled on the west side of the Alps in France. The breed then developed separately from any other breed of cattle over many centuries because of the geographic isolation of the area, adapting to the different challenges of the environment.

In the mid-1800’s, cattle breeders of the Savoie region of France recognized the many desirable traits found in the sturdy reddish-brown cattle that lived in the high mountains year round. The result of the geographic isolation in a challenging environment was a breed of hardy cattle able to graze at high altitudes and produce large amounts of milk in difficult conditions, making use of whatever was available. Climbing at these altitudes made for natural muscling and marbling, as well as developing a robust cardiovascular system. The medium sized females reached their mature size earlier than other breeds, which made for a larger pelvic area and greater ease in calving. The long calves were born hardy, vigorous, and up and nursing quickly. The cows had small, tight udders that maintained their ideal shape for many years, and the fingersized teats did not balloon after several calvings. Dark pigmentation of the mucous membranes, udder, and extremities protected the cattle from disabling effects of the sun. Their hard black hooves remained healthy even in confined conditions. And their enhanced fertility and resistance to disease gave the Tarentaise cows increased longevity.

The cattle were originally introduced in 1857 at the county fair in Mont Brison in Savoie with the breed name Savoyarde. In 1861, the Savoie Duchy again became part of France. So in 1861 the cattle became a French breed and it was named Tarentaise after the Tarentaise Valley above which most of the breed lived. In 1863, the Tarentaise breed was officially recognized by France at the French National Agricultural Fair. Work began in 1866 to decide the elements to select for in the Tarine/Tarentaise cattle. The first Herd Book was created in 1888, and the official name “Tarentaise” for the cattle breed was adopted at that time.

The ability of the Tarentaise breed to thrive on the steep sparse mountain pastures in extreme temperatures indicated an ability to adapt to harsh environments where forage was less than optimal anywhere in the world. Breeders exported Tarentaise cattle to the French colonies in North Africa around 1900. Put out to forage in the area bordering the Sahara Desert, the Tarentaise cattle breed adapted to the difficult environment. Breeding with native African cattle produced crossbreeds with a marked advantage over the native cattle in meat and milk production in the harsh environment. In the 1970’s, North American cattle breeders became aware of the advantages of the Tarentaise breed. The isolation of the breed in the Alps over many centuries meant new genes could be introduced in a crossbreeding program with the english breeds, and enhance hybrid vigor. The many traits admired by the French in 1861 were later admired by the Canadians and Americans in the 1970’s. In 1972, Canada imported the first Tarentaise, a bull named Alpin. A year later, Tarentaise were introduced to the United States, beginning in the northern plains states, and eventually found in all corners of the continent. The American Tarentaise Association was formed in 1973. And the Canadian Tarentaise Association was formed in the early 1970’s. Today, the Tarentaise cattle in North America still have the same desirable attributes as the Savoie Tarine cattle of 1861. Some of the traits that the purebred American Tarentaise cattle bring to crossbreeding and commercial cattle herds are: the longevity factor, ease of calving, the maternal traits, milk quality, ability to travel for feed, and adaptability to harsh environments, and high altitude pastures. Tarentaise cattle have uniquely desirable flavors in their meat and in their milk. This fact is well established within the community of users of meat in North America and in the production of Beaufort cheese in France.

The Tarentaise Breed in France

The Tarentaise breed’s home is in the rugged Savoie region of France, site of the 1992 Winter Olympics. It surprises most people to discover that in France the breed is not dual-purpose, but is used solely for milk production for the making of Beaufort, a Gruyere-type cheese.

The cows are managed on pasture under intensive grazing management. The average production is 5,500 kilos (12,199 lbs) of milk in a 305 day lactation with no fed concentrates in the summer. Cows are dried off in the fall and kept in the barn from October through April because of snow and the danger of avalanche. Their basic ration is hay, sometimes haylage. Only high-producing cows get up to 5 lbs. of concentrates daily and then only for the six weeks leading up to their AI breeding. Most calving and breeding occur in winter.


In May the cows are turned out onto lush pastures at 2,500 feet. In June they are moved to high (and extremely steep) pastures at an average elevation of 8,000 feet. Daily temperatures often swing from below freezing to high above 80 degrees. Grazing ski slopes, the cattle are so removed from any town that the herdsmen actually stay with the cows for the entire three months and make the cheese on the spot. Tarentaise are the only cattle in Europe hardy enough to graze this region profitably. Climbing at these altitudes is what makes their remarkable natural muscling and marbling, as well as endowing the breed with a very robust cardiovascular system. This contributes to their inherent high resistance to the common respiratory/shipping disease complexes found in North America.

The first Tarentaise in North America were imported to Canada in 1972. A year later they were introduced to the U.S. beginning in the northern plains states and spreading to all corners of the continent with outstanding performance. They are also used as dairy cattle in Equatorial Africa and the Indian sub-continent. Able to adapt from Alps to deserts, dry plains to humid coasts, Tarentaise will perform for you also.

Tarentaise Characteristics

The Tarentaise breed originated in France. Tarentaise are moderate in size with good muscling. There is a large amount of muscling in the hip and round region, with long, smooth muscling over the hindquarters. Their original Fullblood breed color is Auburn, with distinctive dark markings on their legs, and dark pigmentation around the eyes and orifices. Their heads are shorter from poll to muzzle than other French breeds, and can be concave in shape. Tarentaise have long necks and bodies, straight backs, are extra long from hooks to pins and their shoulders blend smoothly into their bodies. Hooves are black and extremely hard. Fullblood Tarentaise have horns that are not very long and have an upward curve. Polled Purebred Tarentaise can be found in the United States. 

Mature bulls have masculine heads with wide foreheads, naturally thick, well-developed necks, and weigh from 1600 to 2100 lbs.

Mature cows have feminine characteristics about the head and neck, with dark eyes, and weigh from 900 to 1300 lbs. The Tarentaise are primarily a dairy breed in their native France, where test performances show average milk production of 10,000 lbs. with high butterfat. Their udders are strongly attached and evenly sloped with finger size teats with dark pigmentation. The dark pigmentation found on the Tarentaise offers good protection from sun-related disorders.

Additional Information:
Fullblood Tarentaise have 100% Tarentaise genes.
Purebred Tarentaise bulls have 92% to 99% Tarentaise genes. (15/16 & above)
Purebred Tarentaise females have 87% to 99% Tarentaise genes. (7/8 & above)
Purebred Tarentaise can exhibit different outward characteristics such as being polled, or having a hide color other than the Breed color of auburn, such as red or black or yellow. But they retain the other Tarentaise breed characteristics.

Tarentaise Advantages:
Long term proven track record in crossbreeding with British breeds
Genetically trim back fat/high cutability
Highly desirable taste of the meat
Highly feed efficient
Strong Maternal traits
Excellent Milk quality
Adaptability to environmental extremes
Unmatched Longevity traits
Ease of calving
Ability to travel for forage

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