As rugged as the buffalo,
As thrifty as the Scot,
The cattle for God’s thousand hills
And the places God forgot.
— H. Gordon Green
The Galloway region of south-western Scotland seems to have always had its own hardy variety of cattle. Long before modern breeds as such existed, there were tough native cattle that could endure the harsh climate and were good foragers who could fatten on rugged hilly terrain. The modern Galloway was developed from this native type and was gradually standardized as a polled (hornless), mainly beef breed sometime in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Galloways are predominantly black, although they can also be other colours such as brindle, red, or dun. At some point in the breed’s history – as with many old breeds, it is hard to say exactly when – yet another colour of Galloway was developed, one which showed the distinctive pattern of a (usually) black animal with a wide white ‘belt’ around its middle. The ‘Beltie,’ as it is affectionately known, was likely derived from crossing the old black Galloway stock with a type of ‘belted’ Dutch dairy cow called the Lakenvelder, perhaps around the same period as the black was standardized. A herd book for the standard Galloway was opened in 1877, but there was no herd book for the Belted variety in Scotland until 1928. The Belted and non-belted varieties are alike in most respects except coat colour.
Besides its distinctive markings, the Belted Galloway is special in a number of ways. First, the Beltie is supremely well adapted to harsh climates. Part of its adaptation takes the form of a “double” winter coat. The breed grows a long ‘top coat’ of hair for the winter, but also has a soft mohair-like inner coat to keep it warm. The only other animal which has a similar coat is the bison. This appears to be purely a coincidence of adaptation to climate, as the two creatures are not genetically related. Belties can shed down to a smooth coat in summer.
Belted Galloway cow at Green Arpents Farm, Ormstown
Because the Belted Galloway evolved its double-layered winter coat, less body fat is needed to keep the animal warm in winter, which results in a meat which is finely marbled with much less external ‘white’ fat. Some studies have shown Beltie beef to be lower in calories and higher in protein than more common varieties of beef, with a high CLA (a beneficial trans fatty acid) and a healthy omega 6-omega 3 ratio. In addition to being a beef that is healthy and lean, Belted Galloway beef ranks among the most flavourful and juicy of all beef breeds and is beloved by chefs the world over.
Belted Galloways are efficient and economical grazers able to make good use of marginal land, and, again, thanks to their extra winter coat, they do not require expensive feed supplementation in winter:
The Galloway’s evolution didn’t stop there. Again their environment was one of alpine type low protein foraging including mosses and lichen, woody stems and coarse grasses. They adapted to the naturally low protein environment and by a lucky for us combination produced high quality meat from poor quality feed. (New Zealand Galloway Association)
Belted Galloway cattle are short-legged, independent-minded, calm, and smart. They are medium sized cattle. The average weight for a bull is around 820 kg, with 570 kg for a cow. The cows are devoted, protective mothers who produce rich milk and rarely require assistance giving birth. They were a ‘crofters cow’ used on small farms for both milk and meat, but never as working animals.
Although Black Galloways came to Canada in the nineteenth century, the first registered herd of Belted Galloways did not enter the country until the middle of the twentieth century. This first herd was imported by Gordon Green to Quebec in 1951, and descendants of this original herd still graze the pasture of the Green farm, Green Arpents, in Ormstown, Quebec. The Greene herd is now believed to be the oldest continuous herd of Belted Galloways in North America.
The Belted Galloway population has recovered from a low point during the Hoof and Mouth Disease crisis in the U.K. in the early 2000’s. Their numbers are few in Canada, however, and the Belted Galloway remains on the Rare Breeds endangered list.
Sources: Cheryl Johnstone Green, Green Arpents Farm
Belted Galloway Society (www.beltedgalloways.co.uk)
The Livestock Conservancy (www.livestockconservancy.org)
Greg Suart: Presentation to the New Zealand Belted Galloway Association, 2007, www.nzgalloway.co.nz