Over the past 100 years, the French livestock sector has experienced significant intensification that has occurred in different ways across the country. Specifically, France has changed from a homogeneous state with most of the agricultural area covered by grasslands and a uniform distribution of animals, to a heterogeneous state characterised by an uneven distribution of grasslands, livestock numbers and livestock species. Studying the dynamics of this change is fundamental to the identification of drivers that shaped the various intensification trajectories and led to these different states, as well as to the prediction of future changes. Hence, the objective of this study was to characterise the trajectories undertaken by the French livestock sector to understand the intensification process and the role of socioeconomic, land use and production-related factors. A set of 10 indicators was employed to analyse the main changes between 1938 and 2010, using principal component analysis followed by a clustering of the 88 French departments. Between 1938 and 2010, significant increases in farm size, mechanisation, labour productivity and the stocking rates of monogastrics enabled the French livestock sector to double its production. The most important changes involved mechanisation (with the number of tractors per hectare (ha) rising from 0.0012 to 0.0053), labour productivity (improving from 8.6 to 35.9 ha/worker), livestock production (e.g. milk production increasing from 758 to 1856 l/ha of fodder area) and stocking rates (rising from 0.57 to 0.98 livestock units (LU) per ha). The increased heterogeneity apparent in the patterns of change throughout France’s departments was captured by clustering four trajectories. Two trajectories were formed by departments that experienced strong specialisation towards livestock production, with one type mainly orientated towards high-intensive dairy, poultry and pig landless production systems, and a second type orientated towards extensive beef grazing production systems. Another trajectory corresponded to departments that specialised in crop production with high labour productivity; mixed crop-livestock systems were still maintained at the margins of this group of departments. The fourth trajectory corresponded to the lowest livestock population and productivity levels. The increase in mechanisation during the period was important but uniform, with no significant differences between the trajectories. This typology of intensification trajectories will enable the targeting of specific areas in which the detrimental impacts of livestock intensification require mitigation and provide guidance for future livestock sector developments.