History of the Montbéliarde breed

he Montbéliarde breed was first heard of in 1872 when Joseph GRABER, a breeder based in Couthenans, exhibited a batch of selected cows under this name at the Langres agricultural competition.

Official recognition did not come until 1889, thanks to the combined action of breeders and notables from the Montbéliard region. And, a century later, the Montbéliarde breed made up almost the whole of the bovine population of the Franche-Comté region. It is also well-established in the whole of the east, the south-east and the center of France. There are even considerable pockets in the south-west and the west. It is exported all over the world and represents one of the jewels in the crown of French breeding. It plays a considerable role in the economy of the Franche-Comté area as it is the main source of income for farms in this region.

La vache de Berne

La vache comtoise

Taureau Comtois

Franche-Comté breeding in the 19th century

In the lower part of the region, farms were grouped into large villages, the land was divided up to a great extent and there was not a great deal of grassland. Most of the small famrs had resources which were complementary with cartage, industrial activities or woodwork. Large areas were planted with vines and there was not much breeding, and generally speaking the livestock was not very well looked after. The farmers kept a few cows which were often used for drawing carts. The livestock was of the Fémeline breed, an all-purpose breed, producing milk for local needs as well as animals kept for their meat. The fairs of the Haute-Saône region had already achieved a certain notoriety and were sending animals to both Alsace and to Paris.

In the mountains and above all on the upper plateaux of the Jura region the habitat was more scattered. Grassland has always occupied a large place often with large stretches of common pasture land and - and this is the essential difference between here and the lower part - the collection and the transformation of the milk was already organized under the cheese dairy structure. The existing livestock, of the Tourache breed was therefore used for milk but also supplied good draught oxen which were very popular for work in the forest and for transporting wood. In actual fact the delimitation between the Fémeline and Tourache (later known as Comtoise) breeds was fairly vague, as the two breeds were not very homogenous and there were many crossbred animals.

Towards the end of the century, the situation in the lower part of the region changed dramatically. Industrial activity was on the decline, the rural population had decreased considerably and the wasteland was taking over. Only the small Montbéliard region had escaped, industry modernized and developed and agriculture prospered under the impetus of the Mennonite farmers who had come from Switzerland. These latter, thanks to better feeding and a selection process which even then went back a very long time, had bovine livestock with a better conformation and a level of productivity which was better than average. They had a proper local breed noted for the evenness of its coat, the harmony of its shape and its slaughter qualities.

The birth of the Montbéliarde breed

This bovine population had taken part in competitions prior to 1870 under the name of the Franco-Swiss breed. And, as we have already mentioned, the name "Montbéliarde breed" was used for the first time in 1872. It was presented under this name by the Montbéliard agricultural show at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1889.

It was recognized in the same year and the Herd Book was created on 2nd December 1889. Of all the people who played a role in the recognition of the breed, we must mention Gustave CUVIER, the chairman of the Montbéliard show; Mr BOULLAND, a vet working in Montbéliard, who was vice-chairman of the show and who would go on to be the first chairman of the Herd Book, Mr VASSILIERE, the general inspector of Agriculture and Jules VIETTE, the deputy for Montbéliard and Minister of Agriculture in 1889.

From this period onwards, the choices made by the founders of the breed proved to be very wise ones and showed an acute sense of economic reality. So the Montbéliarde brand image quickly established its own identity and originality. The milk direction which had been taken meant that the cheese dairies which developed after 1900 reaching right up to the areas in the lowlands could be kept supplied and there were also considerable openings for the supplying of animals to milk producers in the Midi region of France. So for 1910 alone, 4,000 dairy cows left from the railway station at Morteau. This market, which later extended to Algeria, was still extremely important for Montbéliarde breeders right up until the nineteen fifties.

In fact, very quickly the Montbéliarde breed established itself over the whole of the mountainous part of the Le Doubs region. It was supported by breeders from the Val de Morteau who, at the instigation of Joseph MAMET from Les Fins and with the creation of breeders' unions, were to ensure that it would have an illustrious history.

Award to Mr Francis Mamet from Les Fins (Doubs),
1st in the General Competition for breeding animals in Paris in 1914.

Breeders' unions

The breeders' unions were cells for the improvement of the livestock for half a century until the artificial insemination centers were set up.

Their promoter, Benjamin KHOLER, a professor of agriculture based in Montbéliard, then head of the milk producing School in Mamirolle, had studied the way that they operated in Switzerland and Germany. The first two breeders' unions in the Le Doubs region, and almost certainly in France, were set up in 1901 in Grand-Charmont at the instigation of Mr VERNIER, a teacher, and in Les Fins chaired by Joseph MAMET. Mr MAMET would go on to become one of the great names in Montbéliard breeding. In 1903 a general association of breeders' unions was set up and, from 1910 onwards, under the chairmanship of Benjamin KOHLER, assisted by 3 vice-chairmen: Joseph MAMET, Mr GOGUEL-FERRAND and Louis BOLE, it became firmly established and really began to grow. The role played by the unions became vital in the choice of bulls for public stud purposes, the recording of covering and of births, the management of the animals' records, completed by conformation checks. From 1914 onwards, the general association, which had become the UNION DES SYNDICATS D'ÉLEVAGE DU DOUBS (ASSOCIATION OF BREEDERS' UNIONS OF THE LE DOUBS REGION) recommended and organized the milk control and managed it in the Le Doubs area right up until 1963. The action taken by Francis MAMET, a breeder based at Les Fins and the chairman of the Union from 1934 to 1956, was essential in the popularization and development of this technique.

The Montbéliarde Herd Book

Created on 2nd December 1889, with its headquarters in Montbéliard, its catchment area was made up of the arrondissement of Montbéliard, the Territoire de Belfort and two cantons of the Haute-Saône region. It was rapidly extended to cover the cantons of Morteau and Pierrefontaine-les-Varans, then the whole of the department of Le Doubs. The first chairman was Mr BOULLAND, a vet, who was also vice-chairman of the Montbéliard show. Following a reorganization which took place in 1905, Mr GOGUEL-FERRAND became chairman with Joseph MAMET and Edmond NETILLARD as vice-chairmen. This latter, a breeder in the area around Montbéliard, took over the chairmanship in 1912 and kept it until his death in 1933. Also in 1912 Alphonse FARINES, a professor at the Milk Producing School in Mamirolle, took up his duties as secretary replacing Mr BOUTEILLER, a teacher from Dung who had been in the post since 1907. Ever since its creation the Herd Book has kept records of young livestock recording declarations of births and the register for adult animals which were checked on the occasion of gatherings of animals.

The local unions were the intermediaries between the breeders and the Herd Book. In 1910 the Haute-Saône region was incorporated into the Herd Book's catchment area. During the First World War, the Herd Book was suspended. It was later started up again with a new structure and, in 1920, as the breed's center of gravity had moved into the Haut-Doubs region, its headquarters were transferred to Besançon. Now the geographical area was no longer restricted, it could extend to wherever there were Montbéliardes. Alphonse FARINES had retained his post as secretary; when he died in 1925 he was replaced by Louis ROY who had also taken over from him as director of the School in Mamirolle. In 1925 the Herd Book recorded 878 animals of which 266 were males. In 1939 the number of registrations reached 2,000 with 400 males, the department of Le Doubs was still by far the leading department for Montbéliardes. In 1939 just over half of the bulls and two thirds of the cows were registered there. In 1937, at the General Meeting of the Herd Book, artificial insemination was mentioned for the first time, on the basis of a successful test carried out by a vet on a farm in the Haut-Doubs region. In 1933 Louis ROY became chairman. The following year, he took on the first full time official in the person of Colonel MERCIER. Fairly quickly appointed director, this latter was to remain active until 1946. In 1940 Mr ROY was called up and handed the chairmanship over to Fernand RAGUIN, a breeder based in Neuvelle-les-Cromary. Louis GARAPON, honorary director of agricultural services for the Le Doubs region, would go on to be chairman from 1942 to 1950 and Louis ROY was to return to the position in 1950. Jean-Baptiste PACALON, director from 1946 to 1977, gave the Herd Book a definite technical dynamism and reinforced its role in improving the breed. In 1956, Joseph MAMET, a breeder and the grandson of the founder of the Les Fins union, took over from Louis ROY and became chairman of the Herd Book. Up until 1980 he was the undisputed leader of Montbéliarde breeders, successfully taking part in all competitions for the breed, but he was also a leader who was listened to and respected, defending his ideas with both faith and conviction.

Then, from 1980 to 1994, Alfred Jeanningros was chairman before handing over to Victor Jeannot, and to Claude Taillard (in 1997). This last had the huge task of starting up the long-awaited new breed organization, the O.S. Montbéliarde.

The O.S. Montbéliarde

This association, whose aim is to bring together the whole lifeforce of the Montbéliarde breed, first saw the light of day in 2007 and took over all of the activities involving the Montbéliard Herd Book and the Montbéliard GIE (association for developing economic interests). A sound structure, with a technical team working on behalf of all French and overseas Montbéliarde breeders, it is chaired by René Morel, breeder in the Doubs region. The organization of the O.S. Montbéliarde has its own specific page on this site (see the menu).