The breed originated in central and upper Belgium in the 19th century, from crossing local breeds with a Shorthorn breed of cattle from the United Kingdom.
Belgian Blue cattle were first used as a dairy and beef breed. The modern beef breed was developed in the 1950s by Professor Hanset, working at an artificial insemination centre in Liège Province. The breed’s characteristic gene mutation was maintained through linebreeding to the point where the condition was a fixed property in the Belgian Blue breed.
The Belgian Blue has a natural mutation in the myostatin gene which codes for the protein, myostatin. Myostatin is a protein that inhibits muscle development. This mutation also interferes with fat deposition, resulting in very lean meat.
The truncated myostatin gene is unable to function in its normal capacity, resulting in accelerated lean muscle growth. Muscle growth is due primarily to physiological changes in the animal’s muscle cells (fibers) from hypertrophy to a hyperplasia mode of growth. This particular type of growth is seen early in the fetus of a pregnant dam, which results in a calf that is born with two times the number of muscle fibers at birth than a calf with no myostatin gene mutation.