This week I took a trip to Lakenheath in Suffolk to meet James and his herd of Murray Grey cattle. Until last month, I have to admit that I had never come across the Murray Grey as a breed, however I was lucky enough to meet James at the Royal Norfolk Show. We were next to each other in the cattle lines and ended up competing against each other as well! James also kindly gave me one of the Murray Grey society booklets so that I could learn a little more about the breed before I did this blog. I was really excited to meet James's whole herd and find out a little bit more about his reasons for choosing the breed.
James's with his oldest cow, Emily.
What first attracted you to Murray Grey Cattle?
I first came across Murray Greys purely by accident. I was about 11 years old and had been plaguing my parents for ages to let me have a dog, when Dad finally relented and gave me the choice of either having a dog, or having a couple of cattle to graze a small paddock we had near the house.
Of course, I chose to have the cattle and a farmer friend of Dad’s went off to Bury St Edmunds cattle market and came back with two Murray Grey heifers. I hadn’t even heard of the breed at that time, but as soon as they arrived I fell in love with them and their lovely quiet nature. And that was how it all started – the rest is history. I’ve loved the breed ever since.
What is the history of the breed?
Murray Greys originated in Australia – in the Murray Valley around 1905. They were a cross between two British native breeds, an Aberdeen Angus crossed with a roan Shorthorn. So they are actually imported cattle of native British origin. The Australian Murray Grey Society was formed in the early 1960s, and the first cattle were imported into Britain in the early 1970s.
Murray Greys are not a rare breed but you don’t see many around, where are they most popular?
Sadly there aren’t as many herds in East Anglia as there used to be, most of the larger herds are in the west country and Wales. I’m confident with the focus now turning more towards grass-fed, low-cost beef production that the breed will increase in popularity once again.
They are still incredibly popular in Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada. In Australia, Murray Greys continually dominate beef taste test competitions and over the past decade, Murray Grey steers and carcases have won every major commercial competition in Australia.
The Murray Grey originated in Australia.
How long have you kept Murray Greys and how many do you have?
I got my first two Murrays back in 1986, but I started my current herd (Fenland Murray Greys) about 9 years ago when I bought a really nice two year old heifer from Lin Roberts who owned Troytown Murray Greys. Sadly Lin died last year, but half of my herd is from her breeding lines, so I’ll always be grateful to her. I’ve also had a lot of help and support over the years from a local friend and neighbour, Granger Harrison. I now have a herd of 19 cattle.
How large would you like to grow your herd?
I can’t really increase my herd much more than what I have now. I have about 14 acres of grass, so I do have to limit the number I can keep (especially if we get another dry summer like last year).
A few of James's 2019 calves, Murray Greys can vary in colour from a silver grey to a darker, dun grey.
The youngest calf of 2019.
Murray Greys make excellent mothers, they are milky cows and calve easily.
Have you always been involved with cattle and farming?
I’ve always had a keen interest in farming and livestock since childhood. My grandfather and father both farmed a small acreage, so I think it’s in my blood.
My herd is only a hobby though, I work full time for the Department for Education in Cambridge during the week, so the cattle are my evening and weekend job.
Murray Grey’s are beef cattle; do you sell your beef locally?
I have sold a few steers to Anglia Quality Meats, but I’ve kept all of the females which have gone into the herd, and I’ve also sold a few bulls locally as stock bulls.
We met at the Norfolk Show this year competing against each other, why is it important to you to show your cattle?
I usually do about three shows a year - the Royal Three Counties in Malvern (which is the Murray Grey National Show); the Royal Berkshire in Newbury; and the Royal Norfolk. I think it’s important to get the breed seen in the show rings and to remind people how good the breed has become. It’s also great fun to show and can get quite addictive – not to mention the social side of the shows.
The Murray Grey produce high quality beef, which is well marbled and can be finished off grass.
Do you have any advice for someone interested in getting into Murray Grey’s?
I would say go for it! The Murrays are a real pleasure to keep. They have a lovely docile temperament, they are easy calving, they finish well on grass and do well on rough grazing, they’re naturally polled, and produce some great well- marbled beef. Whether you have a smallholding or a large farm, I think the breed has a lot to offer.
The British Murray Grey Society website is: www.murray-grey.co.uk
These two cows are called are called, Cola and Candy, they are 'best friends' and I really enjoyed watching them and just observing their interactions between each other!
I would like to say a BIG thank you to James who kindly took the time to introduce me to his Fenland herd of Murray Greys. I know how busy James is working full time and looking after his cattle, so I was very appreciative of his time. I have been really taken by the Murray Greys having not heard of them until a few weeks ago! As well as being large fleshy cattle with a lot of presence, they also have fantastic temperaments and were completely unfazed by me in their field. I have really enjoyed learning about a completely new breed and if you would like to learn more please take a look at the Murray Grey website >>> www.murray-grey.co.uk.
I am Izzi, farmer’s daughter and textile designer at IzziRainey. If I am not designing or sewing you will find me out in the farmyard with my cattle. I am constantly seeking inspiration for my prints, not that I have to look very far. Growing up on the farm, I have always been influenced by my surroundings and this combined with my passion for farming is what inspires my designs. I love spending time on the farm but I also enjoy learning about other people’s animals, passions and stories, which are also influential to my design process. I hope you enjoy reading ‘Over the Farm Gate’