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A breed that can do it all

By Staff | Oct 18, 2015

-Farm News photos by Larry Kershner WAYNE DEWEY, background right, talks about his spring calves to other Normande cattle owners, during a field day Saturday on his Circle D Farm in rural Iowa Falls. He said these calves weighed an average of 85 pounds at birth, and in 205 days they have gained an estimated 600 pounds, including one bull calf tipping the scale at 685 on a strict milk and grass diet.

IOWA FALLS – Normande cattle.

According to U.S. breeders of the French cattle, they are great milkers than can still maintain meat quality.

They are the ultimate grazer capable of gaining weight even on a strict forage diet.

The calves are fast-growing, early maturing animals.

Wayne and Lisa Dewey, Normande breeders and owners of Circle D Farm in rural Iowa Falls, hosted Normande cattlemen and women from three states Saturday for a look at their award-winning herd and spring calf crop.

Wayne Dewey

The event was designed to show other cattlemen how Normande cattle can fit and benefit other breeding operations.

Dewey said his cows and calves live on hay and grass.

His steers get a grain ration/forage mix.

How they benefit other herds through cross-breeding, Dewey said, is reducing backfat, without loss of marbling, improving the carcass quality, as well as provide a quality source of milk.

Unfortunately, Normande breeders say, the cattle often get looked over by other cattle breeders, because their coloring is anything but all black.

THREE NORMANDE STEERS check out visitors Saturday at Circle D Farm in rural Iowa Falls. Owners Wayne and Lisa Dewey hosted a field day, attended by Normande cattle owners from Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Milk and meat

Normandes are the predominate go-to breed by the French cheese industry. French breeders are increasing Normande milk production capability, with a high butterfat content.

In an April 2013 article he wrote for the Normande Association of North America, Brian Toivola, a retired veterinarian, of Hibbing, Minnesota, who is considered the breed’s historian, wrote:

“Most cattlemen are familiar with the French yield- and grade-excelling breeds, such as Charolais, Limousin and Maine Anjou. The best kept secret of French cattle genetics is that the French aggressively select for muscle and marbling ability in the most popular cattle in French history – Normande.

Its “tender, subtly marbled, lean Normande beef has remained a staple of Parisian cuisine for more than a century.

“The breed was first imported into the U.S. in the 1970s as mainly a maternal cross for poor-milking beef cows.”

And U.S. cattlemen who took on the breed, liked the results they saw, Toivola said.

“Their 1,250-pound, high-percentage Normande steers at slaughter had 90 percent choice grading with an average 2.2 average yield grade score, garnered from an average 765-pound hot carcass weight; 13.5-inch ribeye area; quarter-inch back fat; and 2 percent KPH (kidney, pelvic and heart) fat.”

A milk animal with meat quality was the goal.

“To simultaneously meet the needs of the French cheese industry and the critical demands of Parisian beef cuisine,” Toivola wrote, “they concurrently selected for high component milk volume, muscle mass and marbling in their high-capacity cattle foraging on the lush meadows of Normandy.

“By the 1970s, milking Normande cows in France had an 11,000-pound milk production average with 3.5 percent protein and 4.2 percent fat levels.”

Since then, Toivola wrote in 2013, “by the 1990s milk production averaged (in France) to 15,000 pounds, with 3.6 percent protein and 4.4 percent fat content.

“Today, many French Normande cows fed a high forage grazing ration will produce 22,000 to 30,000 pounds of milk” without losing muscularity.

“Their (French) cows now average six lactations and are then slaughtered for prime cuts and not just for ground beef,” he said.

Icing on the cake

“Early maturity is the second factor that helps to enable many Normande steers on conventional high-energy U.S. feedlot rations to reach their 1,250-pound finishing target by 12 months of age,” Toivola wrote in 2013. “The icing on the cake for this already-prototypical balanced carcass trait breed occurred when Normande heifers were imported from France in the 1970s and placed on U.S. beef farms.

“Some nursing purebred Normande calves have been shown by ultrasound to have select grade levels of marbling by five to six months of age.

“Apparently this high-caloric milk ingestion stimulates intramuscular fat cells at a very early age.”

Award winners

Toivola said the breed has consistently won or placed high in various U.S. carcass contests including the Montana Steer of Merit, Great Western Beef Expo Steer Contest, Iowa Beef Improvement Association steer tests, World Beef Expo Fed Steer Futurity and the Iowa State Fair carcass contest.

“I entered a pen of five steers in the first five World Beef Expo Fed Steer Futurity contests,” Toivola said, “and won the high-indexing pen award three times.

“The index was the average for contest rations for daily gain, feed conversion, marbling score and superior yield grade.”

The first year, he said he won the high-indexing award with high marbling and yield grade ratios against 21 other breeds, including crossbred pens.

“They also won the overall pen profit award,” Toivola said, “and they were the bottom five bull calves from my small, 60-head cow herd.

“They were sired by five different bulls, with three different maternal grandsires, which reflects the consistency of the Normande breed’s carcass traits.”

In another winning year, Toivola said his calves won the high marbling and pen yield awards with miniscule backfat, between 0.1 to 0.3 inches.

Backfat is minimal in general for Normandes, Toivola said, since the ribs can be seen on many choice-yielding calves.

But they aren’t black

“Unfortunately,” Toivola wrote in 2013, “the Normande breed’s acceptance in the U.S. beef industry has been hampered by its dual purpose heritage and spotted, tricolor hair coat.”

In other words, they are everything except black-hided cattle.

However, Toivola said that when Normandes are crossbred with red or black cattle, it will produce only white spotting around the head and on the underline.

“With today’s dominant black-hided commercial cow herds,” Toivola said, “most Normande crossbreds will certainly qualify as over 50 percent black and, more importantly, their carcass values will meet certified Angus beef standards at a much higher percentage than the current 22 percent industry average.”

Good mothers

Normande crossbred heifers make productive commercial beef cows with exceptional mothering traits, Toivola said, adding that many cattlemen praise the breed’s influence with vigorous, fast-growing calves and the docile nature of Normande bulls.

Although Normande were bred for northwest France, they have fared well through the Americas, Toivola said, whether in Canada, the U.S. or the high mountain ranches of Columbia.

“I realize change is difficult,” Toivola said, “and it will take some real courage on the part of some cattlemen to place such an unusual bull in their pasture.”

Although the number of available Normande bulls in the U.S. is limited,, Toivola said, there is an adequate semen supply, both domestic and from France.

“There is no other breed with more return on investment potential,” Toivola said, “for both commercial cattlemen and those interested in seed stock investment.”

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