The development of the Aubrac breed started during the 17th century at the Benedictine Abbey of Aubrac, in the South of the central Massif in France. The Abbey was founded in 1120 by a Dutch Lord, Adalard, who had narrowly escaped death twice in this wooded and remote area during his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostello. He decided to build a monastery to feed and shelter the thousands of pilgrims walking through the area. The pilgrims were offered a meal made of bread soaked in fresh cheese, called Aligot. The local breed of cows was used to produce the milk then turned into this particular cheese. This breed was selected from then on for its hardiness, ease of management, milking ability.
The Aubrac Abbey is situated at an altitude close to 4000 feet. It had thousands of acres of land, including 9000 hectares of pastures, some situated up the mountains, some in the low lands. The herds would walk to the mountains pastures on the 25th of May for the summer, and come back the 13th of October to the low lands to be housed for the winter. This transhumance still takes place on those dates today. After the French revolution, the lands of the Abbey were offered for sale and split up into individual farms but the management of the pastures remained the same. The herds would spend the summer on the mountains, the cows were milked in the pastures and the cheese (Fourme) made there in a small stone dwelling the “buron”. The production of a quality cheese and the training and sale of draught bullocks were the main income of these farms. The breed had to produce rich and plentiful milk and be docile. In an effort to produce larger quantities of richer milk, the Brown Swiss breed was introduced but soon abandoned as these animals were not hardy enough for the Aubrac conditions. It is this geographical environment that has given the Aubrac cow the ability to survive and thrive in difficult and challenging conditions. No other breed has been able to deliver the same profit margins in the same conditions.
To encourage breeders to aim for quality the first Aubrac show took place in Laguiole on the 25th of September 1830. The breeders were judged on the quality of the cheese they produced and the look of their animals. The shows helped to set the standards of the breed in its colour, appearance and abilities. The Herd-Book was established in April 1894.
At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the Aubrac breed was widespread in the southern and Eastern areas of the central Massif and even in the Mediterranean regions. At the close of World War II, the Aubrac breed was seriously affected by the competition with tractors (that replaced the Aubrac oxen) and by the disappearance of the milking activity of the “burons” (a combination of traditional cheese manufacturing and the living quarters of the cowherds, in the mountains).
Unwilling to watch the inexorable disappearance of this breed, and committed to no longer seeing it on the list of extinct species, a group of people convinced of the specific advantages and the superiority of the Aubrac cow in many aspects, decided to undertake the rediscovery of the “Black-eyed beauty”. Their dynamism and motivation resulted in the creation of the Union Aubrac, in 1979. Close to extinction in the seventies, the Aubrac breed began to excite interest, thanks to the implementation of efficient measures applied starting in 1979. Since then this interest in the acquisition of Aubrac breeding cattle has not ceased
The first animals were brought into Skibbereen from the U.K. as embryos (1 heifer – 2 bulls) in 1992. Straws were taken from the best bull and used on dairy and suckler cows, mostly in the West Cork region. The next shipment of in-calf and maiden heifers arrived from France in County Kildare in the autumn of 1996.