In Astarac, Julien Soulé, 32, breeds Mirandaise cows, a traditional Gers breed with very low numbers, only 770 females in 2021. About twenty breeders and high school students are working hard to publicize the animal and its history, closely linked to the slopes of the Gers.
If you hear Gers, you will definitely think of duck and foie gras first. However, there is another animal that has its place in Gascon’s gastronomic pantheon: the Mirandese cow, a local breed, very old and which almost disappeared. Its pearly coat, dark muzzle, delicate black eyes and elegance set it apart from other cattle bred in our region. “She still has character, it’s still a Gersoise,” jokes Julien Soulé, 32-year-old breeder.
On top of a hill between Saint-Arroman and Esclassan-Labastide, in the south of the Gers, he approaches his flock and shakes a bucket full of grain. “We talk a lot about wild species, but it is also our biodiversity, our local heritage, and we fight for it to last”, emphasizes the one who has been president of the association of breeders of Mirandaises. After a first career as an engineer abroad, he returned to the family farm and became a partner in Gaec with his father Gilles. Together they own 30 Blondes d’Aquitaine, but also 30 Mirandaise cows, a bull and a dozen bulls of this breed. They try to produce two calves per cow over three years and sells primarily in short circuits and direct.
A very small number of 770 females
Today there are 770 Miranda females in the region. It is little, very little for this animal that is closely tied to the local soil and the first breeding breed here in centuries. She who was brought by the Visigoths, those Germanic “barbarians” of whom Toulouse was the capital in V.e and wee century. Very resilient, Mirandaise never hesitated to plow the heavy and compact soil on the hillsides. There were still 80,000 animals in the 1950s. “And then the arrival of the tractor and mechanization changed everything”, explains the breeder. The initiation of the Charolais and Limousine, breeds considered more profitable at the time, did the rest. The numbers have collapsed to such an extent that by the 1980s there were only a few dozen Mirandaises.
It took the determination of indomitable breeders, like his father Gilles, to revive the breed. The one who has always believed in it. But also technical and financial support from the National Institute of Livestock, the Gers Chamber of Agriculture, support from the departmental council and the Occitanie region. In the 90s, a census was carried out, which made it possible to revive selection and reproduction. Another major architect behind this project: the agricultural school in Miranda. In 1997 he invested in a herd of Mirandaises, which today is the largest in the region with 100 animals and led a major effort for economic development, in collaboration with the various players.
Commercial fortnight right now
“It’s a long-term job, but there is reason to hope,” adds David Vaugon, zootechnics teacher at the agricultural college, very involved in this project, which has also been submitted to the Regional Biological Heritage Conservatory. Midi-Pyrénées in 2018. “We are gradually going up the slope and the herd is increasing by 10% per year, which is encouraging for the future, adds Julien Soulé. Even if we are still in an endangered species”. Via CAP, Europe also supports the maintenance of this breed, up to €200 per cow. Ideally, the number should reach 3,000 to 4,000 animals to ensure its sustainability.
For the breed to survive, there is only one solution: that its breeding is economically profitable for breeders and that the meat finds its audience. To be more visible and qualitative, all the players have developed a commercial brand “Mirandaise, local race of the Gers”, with specifications that around twenty breeders have already agreed to respect. Namely: extensive breeding, animal welfare (castration under anaesthesia), rules on feeding, wintering, fattening and slaughtering animals. “It is still too complicated for us to supply meat from Miranda all year round to butchers, so we chose to hold commercial events to make the breed visible”, continues Julien Soulé.
Emblem of the regional park of the future?
Best example: the two Commercial Fortnights organized for the third time this year. One in the winter and the other in the summer. It is also held this week and until August 14 in partner butchers in Gers. “We approach local butchers who commit to marketing Mirandese meat during these two weeks, and in return we give them communication actions and butcher events”, explains the breeder. And the sauce caught on: Gers consumers are rediscovering this rustic meat, with the taste of past times and which has “lamb salad”.
Other good news for Mirandaise, its cradle of Astarac, will soon be designated Regional Natural Park (PNR). A very promising tourist showcase for the local cow, which could become its emblem. “By its very rustic side and broken by the drought on the slopes of the Gers mountains, Mirandaise also has a great capacity to adapt to climate change”, concludes David Vaugon, professor at the Agricultural School of Miranda. A quality that could appeal to the young farmers of the future, who are more and more sensitive to both localism and the environment.