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, intimately linked to the slopes of the Gers.
If you are told Gers, you will surely think first of duck and foie gras. However, there is another animal that has its place in the Gascon gastronomic pantheon: the Mirandese cow, a local breed, very old and which almost disappeared. Its pearly coat, dark muzzle, delicate black-tinted eyes and elegance set it apart from other cattle raised in our regions. “She has character all the same, it’s still a Gersoise”, jokes Julien Soulé, 32-year-old breeder.
At the top of a hill between Saint-Arroman and Esclassan-Labastide, in the south of the Gers, he approaches his herd, shaking a bucket full of cereals. “We talk a lot about wild species, but that’s also our biodiversity, our local heritage and we fight for it to persist”, underlines the one who has chaired the federation of breeders of Mirandaises. After a first career as an engineer abroad, he returned to the family farm and partnered in Gaec with his father Gilles. Together, they own 30 Blondes d’Aquitaine, but also 30 Mirandaise cows, a bull and a dozen oxen of this breed. They try to produce two calves per cow over three years and sell mainly in short circuits and directly.
A very small number of 770 females
Today, there are 770 Miranda females in the region. It’s little, very little for this animal intimately linked to the local soil and the first breeding breed here for centuries. She who was brought by the Visigoths, these Germanic “barbarians” of which Toulouse was the capital in the Ve and VIe century. Very resistant, the Mirandaise never hesitated to plow the heavy and compact soil of the hillsides. There were still 80,000 head in the 1950s. “And then, the arrival of the tractor and mechanization changed everything”, explains the breeder. The consecration of the Charolais and the Limousine, breeds considered more profitable at the time, did the rest. The numbers have collapsed, to such an extent that in the 1980s, there were only a few dozen Mirandaises.
It took the determination of indomitable breeders, like his father Gilles, to revive the breed. He who has always believed in it. But also the technical and financial support of the National Institute of Livestock, the Gers Chamber of Agriculture, the support of 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 of this project: the agricultural school of Mirande. In 1997, he invested in a herd of Mirandaises, which is today the largest in the region with 100 animals and led a major effort of economic development, in partnership with the various actors.
Commercial fortnight right now
“It’s a long-term job, but there are reasons 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 race”. Via the 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 viable 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 breed of the Gers”, with specifications that around twenty breeders have already agreed to respect. Namely: extensive breeding, animal welfare (castration under anesthesia), rules on feeding, wintering, fattening and finishing animals. “It is still too complicated for us to supply meat from Miranda all year round to butchers, so we opted to hold commercial events to make the breed visible”, continues Julien Soulé.
Emblem of the future regional park?
Best example: the two Commercial Fortnights organized for the third time this year. One in winter and the other in summer. It is also held this week and until August 14 in partner butchers in the Gers. “We are approaching local butchers who undertake to market Mirandese meat during these two weeks and in return, we provide them with communication actions and butchery events”, explains the breeder. And the sauce took hold: Gers consumers are rediscovering this rustic meat, with the taste of yesteryear and which has “lamb’s lettuce”.
Other good news for the Mirandaise, its cradle of Astarac, will soon obtain the label of 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 with the drought of the Gers hillsides, the Mirandaise also has great capacities to adapt to climate change”, concludes David Vaugon, professor at the agricultural school of Mirande. A quality that could appeal to future young farmers, who are increasingly sensitive to both localism and the environment.