16-year-old Ruth Hamill spent the month of July at the home of the Lasternas family, who own one of the top Limousin herds in France. Here she describes her experience.
For the month of July I had the absolute privilege to work with one of the best Limousin herds in France and be a part of an amazing family who welcomed me with open arms.
Going out to France, I had no idea what to expect, but I did have a perceived image of the cattle in France and how I thought they compared to British cattle.
If I had of been asked before leaving if I thought there was a gap in the British market for French cattle I would’ve said there was a gap for French females to breed from, however they had no place in the show ring, as I had always thought they lacked the muscle and shape the British so carefully breed and look for.
However now, after spending a month selecting and preparing a show team of home bred, 100% French genetic cattle, I would seriously reconsider my answer.
The French cattle I saw, in particular the herd I worked with, completely out did all perceptions I had of the ‘typical French animal’. All displayed great width, extreme squareness over the plates and it was very hard to fault their locomotion and it is for this reason I 100% believe they would not only fit in to our show rings but also stand out in our show rings, both pedigree and commercial.
Although the idea of going to a foreign country, living with a completely new and strange family and having to stay for a month may seem daunting to some, I was never overly concerned about it...and I was completely right not to worry.
I feel very lucky to have been part of the Lasternas family, which was not only an extremely kind family but also a family who have experienced great success within the Limousin breed, being regular exhibitors at both the Paris Show and National show and doing extremely well each time.
Olivier Lasternas, who was both my ‘dad’ and ‘boss’ for the month is a very high classed Limousin judge, having duties all over the world including Mexico and I was very thankful of his experience which enabled me to not only learn more about the French cattle but also the French style of judging - a skill which I aim to hold on to and build upon.
The Lasternas herd, which consists of over 200 pedigree cows and numerous stock bulls were in the middle of their first of two calving stints when I arrived.
Not only was this very exciting and somewhat very stressful at times such as when all five cows who were in the pens for calving aid would all decide to begin at once, but it was a real eye opener for me.
The milk that each cow, including first calving heifers, had was so plentiful that it would put even ‘milky’ cows we have in Britain to shame. It really does prove that with increasing muscle, something has to decrease and unfortunately in many cases it happens to be the milk. However the French have got this balance in my opinion spot on.
Not only the milk surprised me but also the calving ease. When I say that cows were in the calving aid pens I do not mean they were suspected caesarean, in fact we had not one caesarean but I mean they possibly needed a slight pull or in worst cases the calving jack.
This surprised me, but what surprised me more were the calves. They were not small nor feeble but good strong calves. The calving ease was more to do with the mother’s merit rather than a bad calf, something I was very impressed by.
Unlike over here, the main French shows are only beginning now and although I’m gutted to be missing them I have absolutely no doubt the show team will do me extremely proud as they have proved time and time again they deserve all the success and recognition they get.
In particular, the Lasternas’ favourite show duo Haude and her daughter of 2015 Lola who have racked up a list of successful prizes amongst them and I’m hoping this will carry on.
Lola became a firm favourite of mine; she displayed both muscle and size and oozed style and femininity, not to mention her extremely docile temperament, a trait which was very obvious throughout the whole herd and something the Lasternas family took very seriously - any animal other than quiet and easy to work with was culled, and this ruthless approach certainly paid off.
My time in France was not only extremely enjoyable but also very worthwhile, expanding on both my French and my knowledge on French cattle without even realising.
I have many people to thank for making this opportunity and experience of a lifetime possible, in particular Aled Edwards who steered me in the right direction and allowed everything to come together and Olivier Rambert who overcame the language barrier and organised all of the final details, I appreciate it all and am very grateful.
I couldn’t have asked for better help and support and I cannot wait to get back out to visit my new French family, both the people and the cattle!