American Tarentaise Cattle
Raising a Dual-Purpose Cattle Breed
Reading Time: 4 minutes
By Jenna Dooley – When I first heard about American Tarentaise cattle back in 2015, I was intrigued to learn all about a widely unknown breed. My husband had a coworker who was raising these cattle. He was excited to share his knowledge about them. The more I learned about them, the more interested I became in having some of these beautiful cattle on my homestead. As a result, my husband and I purchased three young heifers from this coworker that year.
We now have a growing American Tarentaise herd consisting of seven cows, seven heifers, and a bull. We also have several steers that we are growing out for beef. It makes my heart so happy to look out and see these beautiful cattle grazing on my property.
We enjoy this breed for many reasons. These cattle have some great characteristics. Some of these are that they are a great option for grass-fed/finished beef operations. They are also extremely docile which makes them perfect for the family homestead. They are wonderful foragers and we have found that you can graze three Tarentaise on the same amount of land you could only graze two Angus or some other beef cattle breeds.
These cows are great mothers. Originally a dairy breed, their milk is 4% butterfat, which is comparable to that of a Jersey cow. Also, they produce a lot more milk than other beef breeds. As a result, they raise very healthy and fast-growing calves. Healthy calves result in a lot less work and input from us as the grower/producer. Fast-growing calves mean more beef to eat or money in our pocket when it comes time to harvest or sell them. Also, the longevity of the cows is great. Having a cow that can remain healthy and produce healthy calves for the long haul is invaluable. We have one cow, in particular, that is 17 years old, and she is still healthy and raises healthy calves.
Their original breeding for dairy makes them an excellent choice for a homestead cow. On most homesteads, limited acreage can be an issue.
Having a docile cow that can produce high-quality milk as well as grow a heavy steer for beef on less acreage is a very valuable asset. The beef quality of American Tarentaise is also excellent. Our family has been enjoying raising our own grass-fed and grass-finished American Tarentaise beef cattle breed for several years now. We couldn’t be happier with the quality of their beef. Everyone who has purchased our beef raves about its flavor and tenderness of it.
Where did this amazing breed come from?
They originated in the Tarentaise Valley in the heart of the French Alpine mountains. This breed was isolated to this valley for many years and as a result, there was very little mixing with other breeds. They also adapted to be able to forage at the high altitudes where other breeds could not.
In France, Tarentaise cattle are dairy cows with very unique and high-quality milk. They use this milk for specialty cheeses. Since they are such good foragers, they can be healthily sustained on forage and hay alone without the need for feeding them grain.
How did they end up in America as a beef cow?
In 1972, one of the world’s leading cattle scientists, Dr. Ray Woodward, imported them to Canada and then a year later to the United States. His goal was to find a breed that was a moderate size at maturity and would improve upon Hereford, Angus, and Shorthorn breeds.
He was specifically looking to improve milk production and quality, calving ease, fertility, udder health, pink eye resistance, and also have carcass characteristics that would uphold the beef standard. A bonus is that this breed is extremely docile.
The Tarentaise cattle fit the description of what he was looking for and the result was the very successful American Tarentaise breed. The original breed from France was auburn-colored. The breed was mostly crossed with Angus cattle resulting in having both red or black colored calves. Having the black color is valuable to some producers as black cows typically bring more money to the market here on the east coast in the U.S. While we do own both color variations, our favorites are the red colored ones for the simple reason that we think they are just beautiful cows.
In 1973, The American Tarentaise Association was formed and has worked to promote the breed and get them more recognized in the U.S. ever since. I’ve had the pleasure of talking to and becoming friends with the president of the association, Tabitha Baker. From my conversations with her and other American Tarentaise owners, it is abundantly clear to me that the breeders of these cattle love them dearly and are very proud of them.
While this breed is still not well known, it is beginning to gain traction and popularity. My personal hope and desire is to see more people learning about the breed and choosing them for their own homesteads or even larger cattle operations. I think the American Tarentaise is a perfect option as a 4-H breed, a beef herd, a family beef cow, or even a family milk cow.
My goal in sharing our excitement about them is to introduce others to a wonderful breed and inspire people to look into them and decide if this is a breed for their family to try out. If you are interested in learning more, please visit the American Tarentaise Association online at https:// americantarentaise.org/. Please feel free to contact them as they are always more than happy to share about the breed and help those interested in learning more.
Originally published in the March/April 2022 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.