Beef Cattle Breeds
The Murray Grey
Murray Grey cattle have an enviable reputation for their feed conversion rates and quick growth. There are several versions as to how the breed developed. One is that a roan Shorthorn cow had twelve grey calves between 1905 and 1917. The cow was owned by the Sutherland family who farmed at Thologolong in New South Wales, Australia in the upper valley of the Murray River. The calves were all sired by Aberdeen Angus bulls. Peter Sutherland was persuaded to keep the attractive outsiders by his wife. When Sutherland passed away, his wife sold the grey cattle to her cousin Helen. A group of eight cows and four bulls formed the foundation of her herd.
A second version of the beginnings of the Murray Grey breed is that they appears spontaneously in several areas when blue roan bulls were mated to blue roan cows.
Grey cattls also made a spontaneous appearance in Tasmania. Several grey calves were born when Bill Reed of Parknook mated an Angus bull with a white Milking Shorthorn cow. The progeny had superior qualities similar to the Australian Murray Greys. The Tasmanian cattle retained the grey colour for a number of years. A breed society was formed to further the interests of what became known as 'Tasmanian Grey' cattle. In 1963, negotiations began to absorb the group into the Murray Grey Beef Cattle Society and this was finally achieved in 1981.
A commercial herd was established early in the 1940s using a bull from the Sutherland group over Angus cows. By 1957 butchers were seeking out the grey cattle because of a consistently high cut out rate. The Murray Grey Beef Cattle Society of Australia was formed in 1962. By the 1970s Murray Greys had become a dominating force in steer and carcass classes at Australian Royal Shows.
Armidale, NSW, is the international headquarters of the Murray Grey breed. Murray Grey cattle now have the third largest population in Australia.
Murray Grey semen was imported into the United States in 1969. For some time the frame size of the Murray Grey deterred breeders in the United States but America is now producing black Murray Greys. These have been bred to compete in markets which are currently dominated by black-coated cattle breeds. The popularity of the Murray Grey in the US can be measured by the fact that the breed had the largest number of entries in the Calgary Stampede Carcase Competition in 2008.
Nowadays the Murray Grey is found in Australia, New Zealand, Asia, North America and Europe. They are a versatile breed and mostly trouble-free. The calves are small so calving problems are virtually non-existent. Although small, calves are vigorous and quick to grow. The cows have good maternal instincts and plenty of milk for their calves.
The calves will fatten on grass but also finish off economically in feed lots. The meat is nicely marbled but does not show any excess fat either under the skin or in the muscles. The meat is thus highly acceptable to Japanese and other Asian markets. Japan in particular appreciates the consistent high quality of Murray Grey beef.
Murray Greys are perfectly happy under intensive or open range conditions in large or small concerns. They cope with a wide range of climatic conditions. When crossed with other breeds, they pass on characteristics of easy calving, fertility, docility and carcass quality.
The Standard of Excellence looks for a moderately sized animal that is well balanced. The beast should have length and width but without excess fat. The action should be free. They are naturally polled and have docile temperaments. The heads are small and the skin loose and supple. Any shade of silver, black, dun or grey is acceptable but the skin should be dark. A dark muzzle means that the skin colour will also be dark. A dark skin protects the animal from skin and eye cancers and sun-burnt udders. The light coat colour reflects the heat and ensures the animal can cope with a hot climate. The hooves should be dark. The eyes are set wide apart and have an alert but docile expression.
The legs are not strongly boned but sufficiently strong to take the weight of the animal. The legs are firmly under the body, of moderate length with short, strong pasterns. The feet are dark and strong. The body is full behind the smooth shoulders. There is an ample dewlap. The back is strong and the rump slightly rounded and broad between the bones of the hip. The coat is short and the walk active. Mature bulls weigh between 900kg and 1100kg. Cows are lighter at 500 to 700kg.
During the 1970s, Murray Greys were crossed with Brahmans, creating the Greyman breed. Brahmans are a Bos indicus breed and crossing it with the Murray Grey would hopefully result in a more docile, more fertile animal with improved carcass quality.