Belgian Blues originated in the Ardenne Hills region of Belgium at the end of the nineteenth century when native dairy cattle were crossed with introduced Shorthorn beef cattle. The distinctive blue roan colouring – hence the name – is present in varying degrees in Belgian Blue cattle and is attributed to their Shorthorn ancestry.
Initially bred as a dual-purpose breed, by the 1950’s a more heavily muscled animal was being selected for, resulting in today’s solid, beef breed.
The Belgian Blue breed was introduced into Australia in 1988 and the Australian Belgian Blue Cattle Society Inc. was formed in the same year.
The breed is spread throughout Australia, but mainly occurs in Victoria. There are approximately 40 registered breeders across the country, but there are several hundred commercial breeders/producers.
Colours can be blue roan, blue roan and white, black and white, or just white. In other words, colours range from pure white through to black, with any degree of blue roan in between.
Average weight for mature bulls range from 1,000 to 1,200 kilograms, and for cows 650 – 900 kilograms. Average birth weights for calves are 40-55 kilograms (pure-bred) and 30-45 kilograms (cross-bred).
The Belgian Blue is a naturally horned, large animal with a well rounded outline and a quite distinctive, heavily muscled frame. The shoulder, back, loin and rump are all prominently muscled. The head is light and the back is straight. The hips are hidden under a sloping rump, the tail set is prominent and the skin is fine. With strong yet light bones, Belgian Blues move freely. They usually exhibit early maturation.
The breed is known for its very docile temperament in both pure-bred and cross-bred animals. They have a tough and hardy constitution and adapt readily to climatic extremes. Cows tend to have easy calving when cross-bred, and have performed well in fertility trails.
The most distinctive feature of the Belgian Blues is their enormous muscle development, known as ‘muscular hypertrophy’, which results in so-called ‘double muscling’. This leads to larger volumes of red meat and reduced depositions of fat. These factors are responsible for the exaggerated, sculptured look of the breed and their high yielding carcases. Being able to maintain vast muscle volumes while having minimal intramuscular and subcutaneous fat deposits means that the breed is valuable in both cross-bred (also due to their hybrid vigour) and pure-bred herds. When used as terminal sires, Belgian Blue bulls produce no more difficulty in calving than any other sire.
Belgian Blue cattle tend to have smaller digestive tracts than other breeds, and so seem to consume less feed. This, with their high feed conversion efficiency rates, means they can be ‘turned off” earlier than other breeds.
Fine bone structure, heavy (A or B score) muscling and little fat results in a yield of 65% or more for each animal. Other benefits are the high proportion of prime cuts, and the excellent quality of many of the traditionally lower value cuts, due to the double muscling trait. In the market place buyers pay a premium price for both steer and heifers of Belgian Blue cross calves. Belgian Blues are ‘Market’ and ‘Butcher’ preferred.