25,000 years ago a migration of Zebu cattle made its way into north western Italy. Blocked by the Alps Mountains from moving further, these cattle stayed and intermingled with the local "native" pre-historic cattle - the Auroch. This blend of Bos Taurus (Auroch) and Bos Indicus (Brahman) evolved in that alpine terrain over thousands of years of natural selection to become the Piedmontese breed of today. There are several breeds from Italy which also show the influence of this Brahman migration - these are the so-called Italian "white breeds", but the similarity to the Piedmontese does not go further than the color. All Italian white breeds, Piedmontese included, are born 'fawn' or tan and change to the grey-white color, with black skin pigmentation. The Piedmontese, however, also carry genetic traits absolutely unique to them.
The Italian Herdbook was opened in 1887, after the appearance of 'double muscling' was noted in the cattle in 1886. Over one hundred years later, the genetic component which gives rise to the greatly increased 'muscle' (beef) production of this breed was discovered: Myostatin.
The Piedmontese are a moderate sized, heavy muscled beef breed with a unique gene which dramatically improves beef tenderness and reduces fat content while increasing carcass yield. Fullblood Piedmontese are homozygous for this special gene, and the North American Piedmontese Association is the first breed registry to base animal registration requirements on the presence of a specific gene, which can be easily verified by DNA test. In a crossbreeding situation, the homozygous Piedmontese will always provide one copy of this unique gene to every calf, and USDA MARC research confirms that calving ease is similar to Angus, but carcass performance and beef tenderness of the crossbred offspring exceed all other breeds tested.
Fullblood Piedmontese are grey-white in color with black skin pigmentation, and are naturally horned. Naturalean™ Piedmontese composites have been developed in North America and are homozygous black or red, homozygous polled and also maintain homozygous status for this unique gene, in-active myostatin.
Myostatin occurs naturally in all mammals. Its effect is to restrict muscle growth. However, when the gene has naturally mutated it can become in-active, as is the case with the Piedmontese cattle, and no longer prevents muscle development, allowing these cattle to develop more muscle mass than cattle with functional myostatin. However, Piedmontese animals are born with little to none of this muscle mass and are long, slender calves. By one month of age, the muscle development becomes noticeable.
Breed Registry and Programs
A total of 15 Piedmontese live animals were imported from Italy into North America in the 1980s. Today, seed stock and commercial producers across the country continue to expand their herds, a highly successful branded beef marketing company (Certified Piedmontese by Great Plains Beef) and a progressive registry association (NAPA) supports the ever increasing demand for these cattle and the unique beef product.
The Bull Development Project has been evaluating homozygous Piedmontese and Naturalean™ Piedmontese for individual Residual Feed Efficiency and growth traits for several years, as a breeder's co-operative effort to identify trait leaders. Some 60% of the entire national herd's annual bull production is evaluated together, allowing for rapid over-all breed improvement. This information also expands the EPD Project, which includes data sets on Piedmontese performance through the years involved in the USDA MARC Germ Plasm Evaluations.
Registration eligibility is based on the in-active myostatin gene; homozygous animals are eligible for "registration" in either the Fullblood (100% pure based on pedigree record) or the Naturalean™ Piedmontese divisions. Heterozygous animals are eligible for "recordation" in the Naturalean™ Piedmontese division, and 0-copy (non carriers) are ineligible in any category.
The North American Piedmontese Association (NAPA) presents a National Show each year in conjunction with the National Western Stock Show in Denver, CO. However, the main focus of the Association is on breed performance improvement as applies to the commercial industry and preservation of the breed's unique genetic features.
More information is available at www.Piedmontese.org