Hungarian Grey Cattle

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The Hungarian grey cattle is a real national symbol of Hungary, an animal that is indigenous to the country and is protected by law. Its vehemence, beauty, and an appearance hinting primordial force have made it known all over the world as one of the main characteristics of the Great Hungarian Plain.

The 'Hungarian grey' (Bos primigenius taurus Hungaricus) is a real national symbol of Hungary, an animal that is indigenous to the country and is protected by law. Its vehemence, beauty, and an appearance hinting primordial force have made it known all over the world as one of the main characteristics of the Great Hungarian Plain. Their number dipped lowest in the 1960s. Fortunately, it has increased since then.

Cows weigh 550 to 600 kg, bulls 700 to 900 kg, with strong and tough muscles. Their colour varies with age. Calves are born with reddish-yellow hair, and by the age of 6-8 months they turn completely grey. Adult animals' colour may vary from silver to cinereous.

By the age of 3-4 years, the final, sooty colour of bulls develops: the neck, the front part of the forelegs, a part of the shoulders, the withers, chest and belly are coloured black, with dark circles around the eyes.

These animals were among the best meat producers in Central Europe between the 13-18th centuries. Besides their commercial value, they also played a significant role in everyday life. Peasants cooked glue from their bones, and made candles from it tallow. They used its skin to make garments, sandals, knapsacks and whips, and its horn was used for making shepherd's horns, medicine pots, and salt holders. The large scale trade in grey cattle, however, ceased due to radical changes in agriculture and the stock decreased. For a while, they were used as work animals, but eventually this became unnecessary with the mechanization of agriculture, and this led to the elimination of many herds. After the World War II, their breeding was stopped because the regime at that time believed that the Hungarian Grey cannot compete with modern varieties. Stock counts therefore dwindled to dangerously low levels by the '60s, besides the few animals kept in backyards only three national farming cooperatives had herds with a total of 200 cows and six bulls.

In Hungary, national parks, the Hortobágy Non-profit Company for Nature Conservation and Gene Preservation, conservation organizations and some private farms are the most significant grey cattle owners. The stock primarily serves conservation purposes, but also plays an important role as a gene bank. Their grazing contributes to maintaining natural grasslands and the biomes located there. Animals are kept grazing on pastures. By tradition, they are driven to the fields on April 24, St. George's day and they stay outside until the first snow. During this time, they do not get any feed, or other supplements. In the winter they eat hay, straw and corn stalk. Thanks to the appearance of mad cow disease in Western Europe, the guaranteed BSE-free meat of these animals, which consume natural plant food has appreciated considerably.

WWF Hungary's herd consists of 110 grey cattle grazing near the river Tisza, in Nagykörű, Tiszakürt, and Tiszajenő. Our grey cattle are active participants of the land management programme along the river, their grazing trims flood plain meadows and suppress the overwhelming false indigo (Amorpha fruticosa).

 

 

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