Domestic Animal Diversity Information System (DAD-IS)

Gray Cattle: Returning from the Threshold of Extinction


The Anatolian region in Turkey, which has produced many cattle and sheep breeds for centuries, has lost many of their livestock resources in recent years. A significant portion of Turkey’s domesticated animals have become extinct and the remaining breeds are still facing the danger of extinction. Native cattle breeds are most strongly affected. Cross breeding efforts carried out for the purpose of transforming native breeds into more “productive” breeds has been the biggest factor in the extinction of these breeds. The Gray Cattle breed (“Boz Irk” or “Gray Steppe” cattle), faced with an intense crossbreeding pressure for years and a rapidly decreasing population, have been able to survive in a niche in the high altitude, rough, and forested areas of Western Anatolia and Thrace. These areas are unsuited for other, non-native breeds.     


Gray Cattle can tolerate a wide range of feedstuffs and have a highly developed digestive system. Some unique characteristics of the Gray Cattle include, the ability to utilize low quality pastures, resistance against diseases and pests, adaptation to extreme environmental conditions, and the ability to live, feed and breed without much human intervention. They spend most of the year as semi-wild animals in free-roaming herds, excluding the regions where heavy winter conditions occur. Their instinct to protect themselves against predators is very high, as well as their maternal instinct. Further, feed and veterinary costs for farmers raising Gray Cattle are negligibly low.      


With climate change it is expected that the Gray Cattle will gain importance. The Gray Cattle, whose natural range does not overlap with non-native breeds and more productive plant areas have a significant potential in terms of meat production. The potential can be revealed only if there are additional steps taken to conserve the breed.

Conservation studies of the Gray Cattle breed were first started in 1995 throughthe “Conservation of Domestic Animal Genetic Resources Project” at the Turkish Bandirma Sheep Breeding Research Station. This project applied proven conservation practices to Gray Cattle. Gray Cattle registration studies were completed in 2004. The conservation program maintaining the breed in its original habitat was started by including herds consisting of 100 animals and their farmers in the Çandır village of Enez district in Edirne in 2005.  The scope was gradually extended over the years and now ten conservation populations have been established in eight different regions of Edirne, Çanakkale, Balıkesir, Bursa and Kocaeli provinces. In total, 1325 cattle and 57 farmers are included in this governmental conservation program. Through this program, awareness of the importance of the Gray Cattle breed was increased and pure breeding was applied along with management approaches to increase the population size. Crossbreeding has been largely eliminated. The success of the project is seen through the increasing demand for breeding stock each year.

Another project, ”In vitro conservationand preliminary molecular identification of some of the domestic animal genetic resources in Turkey” (TÜRKHAYGEN–I) was carried out. Tissue, embryo, semen and DNA samples were obtained from 25 male and 25 female cattle and stored in two gene banks in Lalahan Livestock Central Research Institute and TUBITAK Marmara Research Center.         

 In addition, the Gray Cattle became Turkey’s first domestic species to be cloned, by means of joint efforts of TUBITAK and the Universities of Istanbul and Uludağ. Five clone calves were successfully obtained between 2009 and 2010.  

Research conducted by the Turkish General Directorate of Agricultural Research (GDAR) demonstrated that Gray Cattle could achieve average daily gains of about 1 kg per day under extensive fattening with carcasses meeting market demands of “low fat” and “good” class. Further, the meat quality was higher than in other cattle breeds.

Governmental applied conservation methods were able to prevent the extinction of the Gray Cattle. However, sustainable efforts are required. The attention to the production of Gray Cattle in their natural habitat has attracted public attention because of society’s awareness to improved nutrition and ecological production systems. An organic meat production project launched in Çanakkale, has been a promising development for the organization of Gray Cattle breeders and sustainable use of breed. 

For sustainable conservation, organization of private breeders is critical. Activities that develop consensus on the distinct features of a breed and increase awareness on its positive qualities are key steps in implementing effective promotion and marketing programs. Such actions have been taken for the conservation and sustainable use of the Gray Cattle. Interest and skills of the breeders and the technical infrastructure and knowledge of GDAR combine to ensure the conservation of the Gray Cattle. Successful conservation efforts have made utilization of this breed’s unique feature a reality in Turkey.

Dr. Deniz Soysal - Edited by Briar Tenold

Sources: Dr. Deniz Soysal - Oya Akin

Photo: Dr. Deniz Soysal