The term multipurpose breed is generally applied to cattle that are exploited for both milk and meat ability. Their milk, rich in protein, has an excellent cheese value. Their good mothering and calf-rearing abilities make these breeds effective for meat production. Multi-purpose breeds are often the “flagship” of the quality sector.
Compared with dairy and beef breeds (Prim’Holstein or Charolaise respectively), the multi-purpose breeds (Tarentaise, Normande, Abondance, Aubrac) were less selected on a given production trait. As result, these animals have better reproductive, health and functional traits (such as fertility, longevity and morphology). These are generally hardy breeds, very well adapted to difficult mountain areas and climatic variations.
Due to their lower productivity compared with dairy and beef cattle, these breeds are more often integrated in grassland systems than in conventional systems. These last systems favor more breeds such as the Prim’Holstein who produces more than 9000 kg of milk per year than multi-purpose breed such as the Tarentaise who produces at most 5000 kg of milk per year. However, breeders of multi-purpose breeds promote the diversity and especially the quality of their products, most often recognized by designations of origin (Laguiole and Beaufort cheeses). This dual production allows the farmer to be more resilient by better selling his calves and/or cull cows, thus ensuring better economic security. The farmer optimizes the use of grazing land, reduces his cost production and limits the flock’s carbon footprint.
So, we can see that the multi-purpose breeds, more rustic and adapted to a territory, are less dependent on inputs and less sensitive to environmental constraints. Food self-sufficiency is therefore more feasible at farm level, in a grassland system, taking into account the role of the ruminant in the agroecosystem.
References to explore
Felius M., Koolmees P.A., Theunissen B., European Cattle Genetic Diversity Consortium, Lenstra J.A. 2011. On the Breeds of Cattle – Historic and Current Classifications. Diversity, 3: 660-692. https://doi.org/10.3390/d3040660
Laloë D., Moazami-Goudarzi K., Lenstra J.A., Ajmone Marsan P., Azor P., Rodero E., Baumung R., Bradley D.G., Bruford W., Canon J., et al. 2010. Spatial trends of domestic ruminants in Europe. Diversity, 2(6): 932-945. https://doi.org/10.3390/d2060932
Lund M.S., Su G., Janss L., Guldbrandtsen B., Brondum F.R. 2014. Genomic evaluation of cattle in a multi-breed context. Livestock Science, 166: 101-110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.livsci.2014.05.008