At Cadfor we have been deliberately breeding some black Murray Greys in recent years. Some people do not agree with this or ask us why. It is a decision we have not taken lightly but in our situation it is vitally important to promoting our cattle to local commercial cattle breeders. Because some overseas breeders have asked us about our black MGs we will give a detailed explanation.
We live on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia. The altitude is around 800 metres and the winters are very cold with heavy frosts most mornings and snow falls occur maybe every second year.
We have recorded temperatures as low as – 16 degrees Celsius.
Cattle farmers in the Southern Tablelands usually calve their cows in late winter to early spring (August to September) and sell their steers and surplus heifers before the following winter (usually in March and April). Many of these weaners are not finished sufficiently for slaughter being in “store” condition (condition score 2-3 on a scale of 5)
There are many special weaners sales over this period which attract buyers that grow these weaners to slaughter weights or sell to feedlots for finishing on grain (these purchasers being known as “backgrounders”).
Premiums paid for black steers
Until 30 years ago the feedlots targeting export markets bought Angus and Murray Grey for preference. Gradually the Japanese owned feedlots introduced a preference for Angus, evidently for cultural reasons. The Japanese say they think black is a lucky colour. One feedlot manager said they still purchased Murray Greys but kept them in back yards out of the sight of Japanese visitors. In a short space of time the Japanese feedlots all purchased Angus steers only. The backgrounders started paying a premium for Angus cattle because this gave them an additional market opportunity for their steers.
The Southern Tablelands weaner sales were among the earliest to see premiums being paid for black weaners, at that stage up to 20 cents per kg live weight. For an average 250 kg weaner this made a difference of $50 per head and this prompted a change in breed composition. As one client put it to us “Not being black is equivalent to being 25-50 kg lighter at the same age, for heifers and steers.” As the commercial breeders went black the Murray Grey studs had a dramatic fall in sales. Most Murray Grey studs closed or changed to Angus. Our local Murray Grey Breed Promotion Group (BPG) which was very strong within the Society with over 30 members, has now become inactive and has less than a dozen full members remaining. The BPG sought help from the Society for better promotion and received a reply, penned in Western Australia, that there was no evidence of a premium for black elsewhere in Australia and inferred that we were breeding inferior cattle.
Murray Greys, Herefords and Shorthorns have all suffered as black cattle now represent over 80% of cattle in the Southern Tablelands. Where cattle can be grown out to supermarket weights Angus and Murray Greys fetch similar prices. It is in areas where the production of weaners is the major cattle enterprise that the price differential for black animals is most pronounced and the loss of MG members is greatest.
Under pressure to retain market share, other breeds suddenly turned black. In this area nearly all Limousins and Simmentals are now black. At this stage black Murray Greys were not recognised and could not be shown. Few people knew that MGs could be black. Tablelands breeders sought to have black purebred MGs registered and shown as purebreds Eventually recognition was given but a decade too late.
Black Murray Greys give the breeder the best of all opportunities:
- better temperament and muscling of Murray Greys
- cheaper purchase price than Angus and equivalent salvage value
- top prices paid for black weaners
- high rate of compliance with market premiums for MSA and PCAS
It really is a no-brainer. The only serious query we have had about black Murray Greys is whether they will throw grey colour. The answer is no. Our problem is that we have not produced enough of them.
It is easy to breed a black Murray Grey. Joining a dark grey bull to dark grey cow has a 25% chance of producing a black. Forty years ago when we bought some stud MG cows in calf, the first calf born was a beautiful black heifer which, not being accepted for registration, was sold for slaughter. After the classification by Society Inspectors was phased out, such accidents were frequently recorded as dark grey and kept in a back paddock. The discrimination continues to this day because they are considered by many to be a “throwback” to Angus.
It is even easier to avoid breeding black; just mate silver to grey and grey to silver and never mate grey to grey. At Cadfor we followed this policy for years until black was recognised and then we bought, selected and joined the best to the best, irrespective of colour. In MG herds silver is more highly favoured than grey so that it is generally cheaper to buy a grey bull than a silver bull of equal merit.
When we moved to Binda our two best bulls were grey, many of our cows were grey and some black calves resulted. One year we had more black bulls than expected and we advertised them and sold the lot. The next year there was repeat demand for these black MG bulls but, as chance would have it, we had no black bulls. We have now changed our breeding strategy to increase the number of blacks and meet the market demand for them. We are now breeding black to black.
Our results since starting to sell black Murray Grey bulls.
Of the last 92 bull calves born at Cadfor we had:
33 silver bulls, 7 sold as bulls = 21%
45 grey bulls, 16 sold as bulls = 35%
14 black bulls, 10 sold as bulls = 71%.
Obviously some of these animals did not make the grade and ended up as steers. However, we have sold some cracking silver bulls to the butchers.
If we only had silvers and greys we would have followed the majority of MG breeders into Angus without any doubt as there was no easy avenue for selling more bulls.
Rather than switching to Angus as most MG breeders have done we have stuck with Murray Greys. Selling black Murray Greys has given us an opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of the breed.
Reclaiming ground lost – selling to producers with other breeds
1. There are many breeders in this district who used to breed MGs and who need no convincing of their merits. They have gone to Angus, seen their faults and who are very open to buying a black MG bull that gives them the advantages of Murray Greys and also achieves best prices for their black weaners.
2. With better prices being paid for black weaners, the breeders of red breeds such as Herefords, Shorthorns and Devons have considered using an Angus bull. However, many do not like Angus; some do not like the temperament, others have encountered the inherited defects and others resent the Angus publicity. Using a black Murray Grey bull produces all the advantages of going black without the Angus problems.
3. Buying a black MG bull gives clients the opportunity of seeing the MG advantage, particularly the better temperament, and they come back to buy another. Some clients sell steers to retail butchers and others have sold direct to abattoirs to get premiums such as MSA and PCAS. These clients have purchased the best bull available, irrespective of colour.
We love our Murray Greys and we do prefer the dappled dark grey colour. We are prepared to breed black if that means we sell more Murray Greys. We are pleased that we have resisted the swing to Angus – we are convinced that our Greys are better.