Belgian Blue Cattle

What Is The History Of Belgian Blue Cattle?

Belgian Blue cattle, which are also known as Race de la Moyenne et Haute Belgique, Belgian Blue-White, Belgian White and Blue Pied, Belgian White Blue, Blue, Blue Belgian, originated in central and upper Belgium and they, at one time, accounted for nearly half of the cattle in the national herd. Local red-pied and black-pied cattle were crossed with Shorthorn cattle imported from England from 1850 through 1890.

Some sources also cite the introduction of Charolais breeding throughout the 19th century. A true-breeding policy was established in the early 20th century when the breed was established.

Belgian Blue cattle were first used as a dairy and beef breed. The modern beef breed was developed in the 1950s by Professor Hanset, working at an artificial insemination center in Liège province. The breed's characteristic gene mutation was maintained through linebreeding to the point where the condition was a fixed property in the Belgian Blue breed.

In 1978, Belgian Blue cattle were introduced to the United States by Nick Tutt, a farmer from central Canada who immigrated to West Texas and showed the cattle to universities in the region. So, the breed was divided into two strains, one primarily for milk production and the other a beef animal. Selection is now primarily for beef. One has to go back to the beginning of the 20th century to see the first selection attempts to breed a dual-purpose animal from a quite heterogeneous dairy cattle population in which Shorthorn blood had been infused in the second half of the 19th century.

After the Second World War, signs of a new orientation for the breed appear, aiming at a strong development of the muscle structure.

In 1973, the breed hitherto called ‘’race de Moyenne et Haute Belgique’’ was renamed Belgian Blue, divided into 2 distinct branches: the meaty BB and the dual purpose BB. From an originally dual-purpose breed, the meaty BB has become a real breed of beef cattle, with the following traits and benefits: extraordinary muscle development, desirable meat quality, stature, early maturity, feed efficiency, docility, uniformity, and maternal aptitudes. The animals of dual-purpose BB branches are genetically identical to the ones from the meaty branch but they have been selected very differently, among others on basis of their milk production and their calving ease. Their milk production ranges from 4,200 to 4,800 liters.

The Belgian Blue breed represents 50% of the national herd, irrespective of the breeds. 61 % of the Belgian Blue livestock is in the Walloon region and 39% in the Flemish part of Belgium. Whereas BB is used in the pure breed in Northern Europe for meat production, it is also used in other regions of the world where meat production mainly relies on the crossing. That is why we see Belgian Blue animals in the Netherlands, France, Romania, Germany, Spain, Italy, Canada, Morocco, Ireland…

The extraordinary abilities in crossbreeding programs and the exceptional quality of the BB products are the reasons why there is a growing demand for BB sires throughout the world. The lower milk price and the introduction of the ''Seurop'' classification system could possibly have triggered this growing interest for the BB breed.

In numerous countries, studies conducted on crossbreeding with BWB, Holstein dairy cows, and local breeds generally show the superiority of the BB crossed animals. The Belgian Blue Breed of beef cattle is relatively new to the United States but is rapidly gaining acceptance with beef breeders and dairymen. As it is mentioned above, Belgian Blue cattle as they exist today are the result of selective genetic breeding and development conducted in Belgium by Professor Hanset at the AI Center in the Province of Liege.

In the late fifties, a debate arose among the breeders, the question being whether to maintain the dual-purpose type as it was or to select for more muscling. The muscling prevailed. Concerning this critical period, three famous AI sires are to be cited: Gedeon and two of his grandsons Ganache and Vaiseur. From then, came the model of the breed.

What Are the Characteristics of Belgian Blue Cattle?

  • The Belgian Blue is a large-sized animal with a rounded outline and prominent muscles. The shoulder, back, loin, and rump are heavily muscled. The back is straight, rump is sloping, tail set is prominent and skin is fine. It has fine but strong legs and walks easily.
  • Their color can range from white, blue roan, black, or a combination of them, the color red is present in some genotypes. The breed is known for its quiet temperament
  • The muscle is a natural development for the breed. They are not born with that extreme muscle but start developing that muscle at 4 to 6 weeks old.
  • The average age at first calving is 32 months, 75% of cows calving for the first time between 28 and 35 months. Two-year-old calving has also been successful. The average is 13 months, 75% falling between 12 and 14 months. 

  • The Belgian Blue has a natural mutation in the myostatin gene which codes for the protein, myostatin ("myo" meaning muscle and "statin" meaning stop). Myostatin is a protein that inhibits muscle development. This mutation also interferes with fat deposition, resulting in very lean meat. The truncated myostatin gene is unable to function in its normal capacity, resulting in accelerated lean muscle growth. Muscle growth is due primarily to physiological changes in the animal's muscle cells (fibers) from hypertrophy to a hyperplasia mode of growth. This particular type of growth is seen early in the fetus of a pregnant dam, which results in a calf that is born with two times the number of muscle fibers at birth than a calf with no myostatin gene mutation. In addition, a newborn double-muscled calf's birth weight is significantly greater than that of a normal calf. 
  •  Belgian Blue cattle have improved feed conversion ratio (FCR) due to lower feed intake compared to weight gain due to an altered composition of body weight gain which includes increased protein and decreased fat deposition.

  • Belgian Blue Beef is famous for its impressive muscling which is commonly referred to as "double muscling". The Belgian Blue's bone structure is the same as normal cattle, albeit holding a greater amount of muscle, which causes them to have a greater meat to bone ratio. These cattle have a muscle yield of around 20% more on average than cattle without the genetic myostatin mutation. Because of this breed's increased muscle yield, a diet containing higher protein is required to compensate for the altered mode of weight gain. During finishing, this breed requires high-energy (concentrated) feeds, and will not yield the same results if put on a high-fiber diet.
  •  European comparisons between the Belgian Blue and Charolais found the Belgian Blue to have a higher muscularity, milk yield, and daily gain.  The Belgian Blue animals were also older at sexual maturity.  Calving interval and calf mortality were approximately equal and Belgian Blue performed lower in calving ease and calving rate.  Some sources stated that delivery in Belgian Blue cows is often by caesarean.

  • In an extensive 3 year test, done by the USDA at the Meat Animal Research Center, Clay Center, Nebraska, the Belgian Blue crossbred cattle were tested with the industry standard Warner-Brazner shear test for tenderness. The Belgian Blue cattle had a lower shear value than the Hereford-Angus contemporary average, 12.8 versus 12.9, with comparable tenderness and flavor on the sensory panel. Belgian Blue cattle also exhibited less than half the fat cover, .21 inch cover versus .45 inch cover, a 53% reduction. Belgian Blue is in line with the new standards. The Belgian Blue also showed 16% less marbling and 14.2 more ribeye area than the average carcass.
  • So, as a modern beef breed, the Belgian Blue is outstanding for its ease of calving, short gestation period, good mobility and structure, excellent temperament, hyper-developed muscling, a high degree of conformity, good size, capacity for young meat development, high food efficiency for fattening, facility for cross-breed calving.

What Is The Weight Of The Belgian Blue Cattle

The weight of an adult bull ranges from 1100 and 1250kg for height at the withers of 1.45m to 1.50m. It is by no means rare to see animals of more than 1300kg. 

Adult cows can reach a weight of 850 to 900kg and can exceed 1.40m.


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