Henri Lestrade, cattle-dealer

Standing straight facing the land … with the sense of cattle-rearing running through his veins.

Henri Lestrade was born on June 3rd 1941 in the district of Eymoutiers near the Millevaches plateau, the green lung of Limousin, in the lovely village of Bussy-Varache.

“It’s the land which makes the man”

A small herd of about fifteen cows. His parents’ property on sloping ground, as sloping as in the Alps. (so sloping that a mountaineering school has been opened in the district  of La Forêt). He learnt how to cultivate the land in the simple and rustic conditions of the after-war years. “There were four generations living under the same roof, respecting the elders didn’t mean the same thing at the time… looking after the elders! Everybody spoke patois… except with me to avoid contaminating me. I still remember bits of it and of course when you arrive on a farm, to negotiate, to buy cattle, speaking patois gives a feeling of proximity, it’s the language used by cattle dealers.

My father decided to leave to go to Saint –Priest Taurion, he had already understood that he needed a bigger farm closer to the town. It’s now 1955 he makes me go to farming school in Ahun. I escaped, I wanted to be free, to live in the open air, I wanted to be my own master. I was born in cattle-rearing but I loved trade at once. One goes with the other, they are two complementary activities. After getting married in 1965, Henri began developing cattle-dealing. To start with, life was unpretentious and rustic for the young couple who shared one single room rue du Chinchauvaud in Limoges. Everything was simple and cheap. They rented rooms here and there. “I’ve always had a taste for risk, I’ve always wanted to invest, to evolve.”

The post-war years meant: bags (full of pork from the farm) lying on the platforms in the stations and vegetables grown on the farm too, all sent to Paris to help the cousins or the cousins’ friends.

In 1970, the farm was still very modest then in 1975 they started to think about exporting. As the years went by there were contacts, purchases then wholesale trade and as they went along they started a real trade. Now it represents 400 hectares and 1200 cows…nearly 20000 cows traded every year. You could think that  it would make him feel dizzy, that  he would show self satisfaction or feel confident he’s made it; it would be a misjudgment, knowing Henri Lestrade and the way he still goes to his stallings “with only limousine cows” as he is pleased to say... still the same young man!


He remembers everything: the cows, their colour…everything: origin, weight, productivity (yes the cows are productive!). They are dissected, joint on the hoof before time. It’s impressive!

It’s his job: to judge, to size up at a glance, as ruthless as nature itself. Simple, elegant, the gesture is precise. He knows it all, he is in control, and he is in his element. He can see what the others can’t, sharper, quicker, craftier as people around here say. That’s what being smart means in the countryside. It’s like x-rays, his eyes scan the livestock… it’s the cows’ last examination before we eat them, sorted, marked, dispatched. A passion… a career.
His children follow his will… Marie-Laure decided to take over the business. She trains her eyes under her father’s expertise. He is happy his daughter joined him in the sturdiness and immutability of his connection with nature. The distance that the city dwellers put between them and nature, their distance with the countryside and the farmer’s good sense, questions and even worries him. His grand-children don’t want to follow him on the farm as often as he would like to. He wants to make them understand that “it’s the land that makes the man. The know-how , the stamina…” his grand-children sometimes watch him work but not often enough for him who has travelled a lot and who could still travel as much as he wants to but who doesn’t  like anything more than watching the sun set on saint-Priest Taurion, the sun set on his land.

Article published in the magazine # 2 - 100% Limousin