The Blue Cattle’s history is really a story of evolution. Although the exact lineage of the Blue’s is not certain it is agreed that in the 1850’s-early 1900’s British Durham Shorthorns were crossed on local Belgium cattle to create a better draft-dairy animal for the country . It wasn’t until the early 20th century that a registry was started. Then came WW1 and WW2 and after that came a time of economic recovery in Europe. Sometime about 1950, the ruling party in Belgium came to their top university professor with this problem, Belgium was booming economically and top quality foods were in high demand, but Belgium had a limited agricultural base. Simply, they needed the most retail product possible from each animal. So professor Hanset used artificial insemination and line breeding with cattle that he felt had high carcass ratio’s to develop the start of a beef line of blue’s. You have to remember this was before all the gene mapping and identification we have today. What we know today is that he started concentrating a trait caused by an inactive myostatin gene. The myostatin gene typically limits muscle development but the inactive form allows for a change from hypertrophy to a hyperplasic muscle growth. In other words, instead of developing longer, thicker, coarser muscle fibers, an animal with this trait can have twice the number of muscle fibers per muscle bundle but the fibers will be finer and shorter. They do not have any extra muscle bundles, just each muscle bundle is larger and the volume of tough connective tissue is reduced. This trait also reduces the deposition of fat to create a very lean product. This trait can be found in a couple other breeds and in other species.
In the late 1950’s the registry decided to split. Some remained in the dual purpose blood line and the rest concentrated on beef production. They changed their name to Belgium Blue Cattle and economic demand pushed the development of the heavy muscled blood line. Economic pressures are continuing to shape this breed. Currently in Europe veal as well as high quality beef is in high demand. It is common for 30+ day old blue calves to bring 2-3 times the price of standard calves. At one sale in 2013 a top angus bull calf sold for $319 when converted to us dollars, while the top 28 day old blues sold for $873 - $879 per calf. This economic pressure has persuaded Belgium breeders to breed for the heaviest muscled calves they can get at birth to get this extra value. So they are basically breeding for calving difficulty knowing that a C-section is just a small added expense for that high value calf. Looking at sire selection EPD’s in Belgium, along with our standard EPD’s is another trait called conformation at birth. This is an estimation of the muscle at birth. There are bulls with low conformation (low muscle) at birth and good muscle score at weaning but they are not the super muscled calves at 30 days.
This pressure in Belgium to breed for calving difficulty and the reputation for C-sections has caused breeders in Great Britain and the USA to again change their names as they pushed to promote and develop easy calving blood lines that still retained all the qualities that make the blues so remarkable. So the British Blues and the American Blues have been developed and are looking for recognition in their respective countries.