This breed is found in the region of Gascony in southwest France and is related to the Blonde d' Aquitaine and the Piedmontese. There are two type of Gascon cattle recognized, à muqueuses noires and aréolé. The characteristics of the Gascon, forged by generations of use for animal haulage, make it a particularly effective suckler dam in pure breed or in cross breeding in low cost production systems. The original birthplace of the breed extends from the Central Pyrenees to the Garonne Basin. The 23,000 females of the foundation stock there developed exceptional hardiness which enables them to adapt everywhere, producing officially recognized quality beef (Label rouge Boeuf Gascon).
This breed has been developed into a beef breed that is widely used in its native region. Population in France: 22983 cows, 10816 of them recorded. Mature cows weigh 550 to 700 kg and stand 135 cm at the shoulder; bulls average 145 cm in height and 800 to 950 kg in weight.
The quality of its hooves enables the Gascon to walk long distances towards the tops of the summer pastures in the Pyrenees when grass becomes more difficult to find. These hooves also enable them to withstand 6 to 7 winter months in traditional tethered housing or as young animals being finished on slatted floors. A study carried out by the INRA shows that the Gascon is the animal with the best resistance to heat. Used to being exposed to very intense bright light, the eye of the Gascon is protected by black-rimmed eyelids. In spite of the presence of multitudes of insects, the number of cases of keratitis during the summer period is minimal. Each winter, numerous all year outdoor farming systems bear witness to the fact that all the Gascon herds require is an area of land which is naturally protected from the prevailing winds.
Nowadays, a herd must be viable and recoup its costs. A herd which ages well avoids excessive need for replacement stock. So the heifers are destined to be sold and generate added value. The Gascon responds to this requirement, as breed selection has always used families with great longevity. To make up for winter rations consisting of various types of hay which are not always very appetizing or not very nutritious, the Gascon accepts and makes optimal use of different diets. In spite of difficult environmental conditions, 75% of the cows have a calving interval of less than 380 days, which allows for the production on average of one calf per year. The majority of the females calve at between 32 and 36 months, and they remain in phase with the period at summer pasture. Farmers in regions of arable farming manage the Gascon in a more intensive manner and have a system of calving's at between 24 and 30 months. 98% of the calving's require no assistance or just simple assistance, in both pure breed and in crossing. Official trials identified spectacular finishing results for Gascon store calves (less than 23 % feed cost, Livestock Institute 1988).
Selection and expansion
The first genealogical book was made official in 1894 then adapted into the UPRA from 1974. The Two type of Gascon Cattle, “à muqueuses noires” and “aréole” were combined in same herd book in 1955 but now are separated since 1999. Presently, 330 motivated farmer-breeders are grouped together in the Gascon UPRA. The foundation stock represents more than 30% of the total population of the cows. The selection scheme for males responds to the requirements for natural service and for artificial insemination. To consolidate the hardy characteristics of the breed, 2/3 of the young males evaluated at the Gascon National Centre have spent the summer season in areas situated at an altitude of 1,700 meters. The computerized breed file enables breeding animals to be qualified according to defined objectives and this applies to herds located in several countries of the European Union. With prizes in the Beef Quality Trophy at the Concours Général Agricole in Paris, the reputation of Gascon beef has spread far beyond the confines of the Pyrenees. Today, the Gascon occupies the regions of the Midi-Pyrenees and the Languedoc-Roussillon where it has become the largest breed in several departments.
The Gascon breed is progressively spreading throughout Europe: Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Semen is being exported more and more every year to South America and exports are planned to African countries.
Genus Bos: Cattle Breeds of the World, 1985, MSO-AGVET (Merck & Co., Inc.), Rahway, N.J.
Mason, I.L. 1996. A World Dictionary of Livestock Breeds, Types and Varieties. Fourth Edition. C.A.B International. 273 pp.
On-farm Performance Recording, Livestock Institute - FBC, 2006.