Murray Grey Breed Origin - A Summary
(Contributed by M. E. Wozny)
Understanding of the Murray Grey breed's origin requires a step back to the eighteenth century, to the Shorthorn cattle breed in England. In those days, in the northeast part of England, local cattle, known as Teeswaters and Durhams, attained good reputations for their milking ability and conformation. They were systematically improved and became the Shorthorn breed familiar in all geographies today. Shorthorns evolved as milking and then dual-purpose breeds, but today, are essentially considered strictly a beef breed. Shorthorn cattle, today as in the past, are renowned for excellent meat quality and breeding precocity.
The Shorthorn breed has three standard coat colors: red, white and roan. However, there is incomplete genetic dominance of red over white, and to add to the intrigue, genes for spotting and patterns contribute to the color array.
This color complexity has contributed in large measure to the distinctive coloration within the Murray Grey breed, right from the start. Shorthorn genetics, infused with Angus genetics, produced the original Murray Greys. The breed has kept its distinctive appearance, even after generations of breeding to black (or other color) cattle. By retaining its distinctive color, the breed's performance has been easily and systematically observable.
English Shorthorn cattle were among the breeds present in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century. At about that time, by most accounts, in 1905, Australia was struggling out of an extensive drought period. This combination of genetic availability and environmental events set the stage for the birth of the first Murray Grey.
Along the banks of the Murray River in Southeastern Australia, Peter Sutherland, an Aberdeen Angus (Black Angus) breeder since 1886, purchased a herd of Shorthorn cattle, to begin to build back his drought-depleted cattle holdings. Most sources cite 1905 as the date of his purchase of these Shorthorn cattle.
At the family property, known as Thologolong, one of these particular Shorthorns, a roan cow known as “Strawberry,” was selected as a family milk cow. In order to enable this cow to freshen, she was bred each year to black Angus bulls on the property, producing polled silver calves. Thus, the silver cattle came into existence.
In a more recent study, some evidence has indicated that the purchase date of this “Strawberry” roan Shorthorn cow was 1915, and that she was actually nearly absolutely white, rather than a true roan. Other versions of the events describe a second Shorthorn cow, a white Shorthorn, being a purchased addition to the Thologolong herd, joining Strawberry and her offspring in 1915, to add to the Angus X Strawberry base herd of silver cattle. Throughout this period, only black Angus bulls were used as service sires, by all recollections.
According to the legends, apparently Mr. Sutherland was somewhat unsure about these non-black cattle reflecting either favorably, or unfavorably, on the reputation of his black Angus herd. He was not in favor of maintaining these non-black cattle. However, his wife, Ena, took great interest in these calves, and retained all of them for the family. She prized the calves as much for their gentle disposition as for their traditional cattle traits.
By all accounts, each of these silver calves displayed superior growth, muscling ability, puberty attainment, and eventually either better milking or carcass qualities, compared to the straight bred black Angus cattle. They excelled in converting grass to beef. They earned their right to stay at Thologolong by their performance in all aspects of cattle production, as well as by their color, which set them apart from all the other cattle on the property.
In 1929, after the death of Mr. Sutherland, his widow, Ena, sold her herd of unique cattle to her sister-in-law, Helen Sutherland. Thus these cattle were not dispersed, but were retained as a nuclear herd.
Mrs. Helen Sutherland expanded this original genetic base through a controlled breeding program, using as a foundation, eight silver females and four silver bulls, plus some black Angus sires. Throughout this process, the silver coloration predominated, with some silver grey and medium grey seen in individuals of the herd. Occasionally one of these calves would be sold through the local sale barn or would find its way to a butcher shop, but generally, they were retained at Thologolong.
However, in 1939, William (Cleaver) Gadd, elder brother of Mervyn Gadd, went to Thologolong to purchase a black Angus bull for the Gadd Brothers’ commercial cattle herd, since it was time for a new herd bull. In those days, black Angus cattle were called “black polls” in southern Australia, and mature black poll bulls were purchased locally among neighboring farms. The Gadd brothers had gone to school with Keith Sutherland, who was now managing the Thologolong property, and they knew each other well.
The property owned by the Gadd Family, known as The Glen, was located 17 miles away from Thologolong. Cleaver went to Thologolong, where he saw an impressive grey yearling bull in a lot with black Angus yearlings. Being in need of an older bull in order to service the relatively large herd of The Glen commercial females, Cleaver was reluctant to purchase the yearling-age bull. However, Keith offered the young bull for the price typically quoted for a steer, to lessen the perceived risk to the Gadd herd, if Gadd bought a two-year-old bull as well, for the asking price for a mature sire. Both parties agreed to the deal, and that day, Cleaver Gadd walked the silver bull and the “black poll” bull 17 miles to The Glen.
For some years prior to this purchase, Mervyn Gadd had noticed an occasional grey animal among the Angus on Thologolong, and invariably, the grey animal always appeared to be the best animal of the group. Mervyn was delighted by his brother’s surprise purchase, and set about to use The Glen’s first Murray Grey bull for a major breeding program. Mr. Gadd recalls in his memoirs that the grey bull never had an official name, but he was always a reliable, prolific sire, and provided The Glen with its foundation herd of Murray Grey cattle.
As the silver-colored cattle population increased, local cattlemen of the Murray Grey River Valley were attracted by their size, appearance, and performance. By about 1957 these animals were in demand by butchers, who paid a premium price for the grey cattle, due to their high yield and less wastage. As more and more commercial cattlemen placed grey bulls in their herds, it was decided to form a breed association in Australia. In 1962 a group of about 50 of these cattle producers formed the Murray Grey Beef Cattle Society of Australia, to establish the cattle as a unique breed, and to administer their genetics and registry. These cattle producers chose the name “Murray Grey” for their cattle breed, from its color and from its beginnings along the Murray River.
In 1969, three importers, New Breeds Industries, Inc., Murray Grey USA (Lubbock, Texas), and Firetree Production Stock, of Kentucky, brought the first Murray Grey semen into the United States. In 1972 a bull calf and yearling heifer were imported from Australia to the USA. Live Murray Greys and semen were exported from Australia also to New Zealand and Canada during this period also.
In the USA and Canada, the breed increasingly is preferred by cattle producers aiming for the “naturally grass-fed” market. Murray Grey cattle have been scientifically proven to finish on grass alone, without grain feeding, and grade choice in the USA grading system. Murray Greys do not deposit a lot of inter-muscular or seam fat in their carcasses, and are preferred by an increasingly health-conscious public as well.
Most recently enterprising cattle producers in Brazil and in Paraguay have introduced Murray Greys into South America. These producers have used Murray Grey genetics crossed with Nelore cattle to produce outstanding crossbred animals. The crossbreds are calved easily by Nelore cows, without assistance, and they consistently demonstrate a 35% greater growth rate, with improved muscling. Purebred embryos have also been imported in these countries, and these purebreds are being exhibited at various livestock shows to introduce the breed to commercial cattle industry.
The information in this document has been compiled from the following references:
a) Web sites of the Murray Grey Beef Cattle Society Ltd.; Murray Grey International, Inc; American Murray Grey Association; Canadian Murray Grey Association; Ontario Murray Grey Association; Oklahoma State University Animal Science Department
b) Books written by early Murray Grey producers and breed representatives, including “By Chance and Intuition, The Story of Mervyn Gadd and the Murray Greys” by Mervyn Gadd; and “The Case of the Curious Color, Murray Greys - Australia’s Own Beef Cattle,” by W. A. Beattie
c) Handbooks about breeds of cattle, including “Breeds of Beef Cattle,” written by Herman R. Purdy and completed by R.. John Dawes; and “Cattle: a Handbook to the Breeds of the World,” by Valerie Porter
d) Interviews and reminiscences with Murray Grey producers, worldwide.
a) Mature bull – D. Rogers, Domar Farms, Ohio, USA
b) Yearling heifer – F. and M. Eich, Flamleigh Murray Greys, North Carolina, USA
c) Monument vista and plaque – D. Llewellyn, Katuna Murray Grey Stud, New South Wales, Australia
These sources are gratefully acknowledged.
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