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Come and see the thousand faces of Hungary and the Hungarian culture

Hungarian Grey Cattle

Hungarian cattle farming goes back many thousand years in history. This is attested by more than 50 ancient words in the language that relate to this area of activity.

Hungarian Grey Cattle, szürkemarhaThe robust gray cattle were originally brought from inner Asia to the Carpathian Basin by ancient Hungarians. The Hungarian Gray Cattle (Bos taurus primigenius podolicus) is closely related to Podolian cattle species (a territory that once belonged to Poland, and it is now part of Ukraine). Abu Hamid, Arabic merchant gave the following description of the grey cattle a thousand years ago:

In Bazsger (Hungary), there lives a beast, huge as an elephant. Its skin itself weighs as much as two strong oxen. Its head is as large as a calf; its horns are as large and as long as the trunk of an elephant. People hunt it, and call it “attakda”. A beautiful animal.”

Male and female species are rather different. Males are gray, and weigh around 1500-2000 pounds (700-900 kg), the color of females has a blue touch, and they weigh around 1200-1300 pounds (550-600 kg). The large animals are robust and strong, but at the same time, amicable.

The meat of the gray cattle is widely known as excellent. They are the toughest of livestock. They were never stalled, but lived on open pasture all year round; eating grass and reed during the summer, and finding moor beneath the snow during the winter.

Stockmen (cowboys; gulyás – from whence comes the word goulash) were in charge of keeping and driving the herd. It was a complex and dangerous job; they had to keep alert against attacks from rascals (betyárok) and wolves. On occasion, they drove the herd on foot as long as 620 miles (1000 kilometers) for a fair.

The largest cattle fairs were held in Vienna, Munich, Strasburg and Venice
. To cross the Danube River, animals either swam by thousands, or were transported on ferryboat. In King Matthias’s time (1458-1490), Hungary was just as prosperous as Europe’s leading states, and this is in part due to the prevalence of gray cattle keeping.

In the Kiskunsag region, cattle herding remained a tradition up to the beginning of the 20th century
. It is this tradition that is commemorated in the 19th century Hungarian poet, Sándor Petőfi’s verses:

Cowbells ringing under a miraculous sky
One hundred stout herds of Kis-Kunsag;
When time comes for noon siesta at the tall well sweep
Double-branched, wide water through awaits.
Az Alföld (The Great Plain)

Today, cattle are grazed across the pastures of the National Parks year round, being integral parts of the puszta scenery as is the above mentioned sweep well or the legendary mirage. The cattle brave the often extreme weather conditions of the puszta – winter freezes, summer heat, thunderstorms –, the cows often giving birth to their calves on the February snow.

Gray cattle herds are essential for the upkeeping of the protected grasslands
; therefore, Kiskunsag National Park owns a herd of 1500, to preserve the gene pool, and to maintain the protected natural environment. Their meat is used for fine Hungarian specialties, such as salami, ham, and fatty.

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