Limousin is a very old breed; it may have originated anywhere from 16000 to 13000 years ago as dated by cave drawings in the French Lascaux Cave. It was developed in the central Marche and Limousin regions of southern France. The area is relatively isolated and the cattle breed was allowed to grow with little to no external influences. Due to its environment, the Limousin attained superlative hardiness and adaptability.
In the 1700s and 1800s, there were attempts at producing a larger strain of the Limousin. The resulting cattle while being more massive also required increased amounts of feed. The bigger Limousin was not an economically sound option so it was abandoned and breeding programs were allowed to develop naturally, their aim being higher quality in the medium framed animals. One of the key cattle breeding programs belonged to Charles de Leobary, who through rigorous selection established a herd of cattle that at its time was the epitome of the Limousin breed. The success of his breedings led to the Limousin being known from then on as the French "butcher's animals". The first Limousin Herd Books were written in 1886. Its entries were chosen with such scrutiny that less than half of all animals applying for registration were actually accepted. The adoption of a herd book, prompted creation of Limousin exclusive cattle shows in France.
Limousin cattle form part of the European Continental cattle breeds. These breeds of cattle are sometimes considered exotics in the United States, as their introduction to North America was much later than most British breeds. The Limousin entered the American continent initially in Canada in 1968. The first Limousin bull imported into the US in 1971 was named Kansas Colonel. Previously Limousin genetics were attained using imported semen, mostly from Canada's Prince Pompadour. The North American Limousin Foundation, founded in 1968 is presently the largest Limousin association in the world.
Limousin cattle highlight three important traits within their breed: excellent feed efficiency, adaptability and high carcass yield. The red or golden colored cattle are good foragers and in feedlots are well able to convert feed into mass. The carcass of the Limousin yields good cutability and it is commonly said that they are genetically "trimmed". The meat is tender and fine fibered because of their low fat levels.
The point where the Limousin could be discredited is also the point at which its breeders have taken the initiative to dramatically improve the breed. Due to the difficult terrains in which the Limousin originated, it developed a volatile temperament in order to guarantee its survival. Limousins have been known to clear high fences with great ease and to be generally rather unpredictable. In 1998, the North American Limousin Foundation created a temperament EPD. This EPD rates the docility of the cattle allowing breeders to select for the calmer animals and cull those who continue with difficult disposition. Speaking to ranchers and breeders of the cattle, it is quickly noted that the nature of these cattle is not up to par with their reputation. The temperament has improved significantly, so much that some have cattle that can "eat out of their hands". One must take into account the Limousin is a muscular animal whose sole movements will have a more significant impression than cattle of smaller mass. While a reputation of being volatile may precede them, experience with these animals will paint a different impression.
The heavy musculature of the Limousin is a highly heritable trait. One of the most successful crosses involves the Angus-it is an ideal cross for consumers and producers. The hybrid will benefit from heavier Limousin muscling, high efficiency and Angus polledness and marbling. From a consumer point of view the resulting beef will include the highly desired Angus taste and the leaner cuts of the Limousin.
All in all, the Limousin cattle have much to offer ranchers. They are excellent source for introducing mass into the lighter breeds while maintaining relatively low birth weights. The days of the legendary wild Limousin have drawn closer to an end as selection has favored the more reliable animals. In an era where leaner cuts of beef are the standard, the Limousin should not be overlooked as an excellent choice of beef cattle.