A STAND-OUT BREED

The dis­tinc­tive coat of the gen­tle-na­tured Belted Gal­loway makes it eas­ily recog­nis­able against the rugged ter­rain of south-west Scot­land

Landscape (UK) - - Con­tents -

A dis­tinc­tive na­tive breed

Spring ap­proaches and colour flushes the low­lands of south-west Scot­land. Vivid new growth pushes its way through the dull fo­liage of win­ter. In the green­ing fields be­neath rolling hills, a herd of large mono­chrome cat­tle graze peace­ably: the Belted Gal­loway. A broad band of snowy white en­cir­cles the midriff of the oth­er­wise dark black an­i­mals. This dis­tinc­tive liv­ery makes the Bel­ties easy to spot and has won them a spe­cial place in the hearts of breed­ers, farm­ers, lo­cals and vis­i­tors.

Unique ap­pear­ance

The coat of the Belted Gal­loway is un­mis­tak­able but other fea­tures also set it apart. It is rel­a­tively small, with a height of ap­prox­i­mately 4ft (1.2m), com­pared to the 5ft (1.5m) height of a Friesian. Cows nor­mally weigh be­tween 450-680kg (70-107st) with bulls weigh­ing in at 770-1,000kg (121-157st). By com­par­i­son, ma­ture Bel­gian Blue fe­males weigh ap­prox­i­mately 780kg (123st) and the bulls 1,200kg (189st). The Beltie is nat­u­rally polled, which means it never grows horns. Ideally, the fe­male’s head is broad, with wide nos­trils and large eyes, while the top of the bull’s head is low and flat. The ears of both sexes should be mod­er­ate in length and fringed with black hair. They sport a dou­ble coat, which they can shed in hot weather. For the rest of the year, the long, coarse and curly outer layer acts as a nat­u­ral rain bar­rier, while the soft un­der­coat keeps the an­i­mals warm even in the chill­i­est win­ters. All this means they rarely have to be brought un­der cover. As well as black, there are also dun and red va­ri­eties, but all have the clear white band.

Mak­ings of a cham­pion

One woman who knows all about the iconic cat­tle is breeder Anne Bell. She and her late hus­band Alas­tair moved from East Loth­ian in the late 1990s purely be­cause of the Bel­ties. “We had some White Gal­loways, but I wanted to get into show­ing, and there weren’t many classes for them,” says Anne. “We would come to Dum­fries and Gal­loway to meet peo­ple in­volved in the show­ing world. We thought it was a fab­u­lous place, so friendly and wel­com­ing. When Alas­tair re­tired from his vet­eri­nary prac­tice in 1998, we de­cided to move here.” The cou­ple took over Clifton Farm near Dal­beat­tie. Its 200 acres, with views across the Sol­way Firth to the Lake District be­yond, proved to be ex­cel­lent ground for the new herd. Anne says she was de­ter­mined from the start to have an­i­mals of cal­i­bre. To this end, she turned to some­one well known in the Belted Gal­loway world, who had also be­come a very good friend. Flora Stuart had one of the old­est herds at her Mochrum es­tate, near Stran­raer. She was known all over the world for her dedication to the Bel­ties, breed­ing some of the top an­i­mals in the UK. “You have to start with the best and keep the best,” says Anne. “We be­gan with just a hand­ful, and they came from Mochrum. There was one which I knew was par­tic­u­larly good, and I said to Flora: ‘You’re surely not go­ing to sell us that one; she’s ter­rific.’ How­ever, she was adamant that she wanted Alas­tair and me to have her.” That cow, Mochrum Jadee, is still with Anne at the age of 15. She won the Royal High­land Show in 2009 and is the dam of Anne’s six-year-old cham­pion bull Clifton Her­cules. “I knew when Her­cules was born that he had the mak­ings of a cham­pion,” says Anne. “At just six months old, we took him to the Great York­shire Show with his mother, and he won Re­serve Cham­pion. So he’s al­ways been a great boy. He has a very straight back and a tremen­dous back end, and he just seems to stand there and say: ‘Look at me; I’m won­der­ful.’ He has real pres­ence and a great tem­per­a­ment.

“His prog­eny have won prizes ev­ery­where, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, Amer­ica, Canada, Ger­many and France. He has babies all over the place. “Some­one asked me if the se­cret to get­ting good an­i­mals was luck or feed­ing. I said it was nei­ther: it’s the breed­ing. You can’t de­pend on luck. You have to know what you’re look­ing for. I know all the pedi­gree lines. When you get your eye in, you can look at a cer­tain an­i­mal and know who its mother was and its sis­ter, and which line it comes from.” At 79, Anne is still in­volved in the day-to-day herd work and the com­pe­ti­tion side, with sup­port from her fam­ily. Her eight-year-old grand­daugh­ter Daisy re­cently won the Chil­dren’s Stock Judg­ing class at a show in Ayr­shire and came sec­ond in the Han­dling class. Anne says that is one rea­son why the Bel­ties’ docile tem­per­a­ment is such an im­por­tant as­pect of the breed. “I need to be able to han­dle them eas­ily, and I want my grand­chil­dren to be safe around them as well. Ob­vi­ously, you have to re­spect the bulls a bit more, but the cows are gen­er­ally gen­tle and good-na­tured.”

Look­ing their best

In the show­ing ring, the an­i­mal’s con­for­ma­tion is of supreme im­por­tance. Judges will look for straight backs, nice heads, strong limbs and healthy teeth. The white belt must run right round the cow’s mid­dle, ex­tend­ing from the forelegs to the hind legs, but not reach­ing the shoul­der. There must be no black spots of hair on the white belt and no spots of white hair any­where other than on the belt it­self. Judg­ing is a very pre­cise art, and Anne knows the im­por­tance of help­ing her Bel­ties present them­selves to best ef­fect. “Go­ing into the ring is quite a daunt­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and can be tricky. You have to make sure the cow is show­ing it­self off, ears pricked and stand­ing square. The judge puts his hand on them to make sure they are nice and level on the back and have the right de­gree of flesh cov­er­ing them. Then, when you lead them round, you have to make sure they’re mov­ing prop­erly. It’s not like walk­ing a dog on a lead.” Anne’s at­ten­tion to de­tail and the qual­ity of her herd has re­sulted in wins at the Great York­shire and the Royal High­land shows, as well as count­less tro­phies and rosettes at local agri­cul­tural shows. In 2016, the in­au­gu­ral Scot­tish Belted Gal­loway Club com­pe­ti­tion saw the Clifton herd take the ti­tles for Best Cow, Best Heifer, Best Large Herd and Best Over­all Herd. It was one of many mem­o­rable events in her show­ing ca­reer. ‘In 2009, I met the Queen at the Royal High­land Show be­cause she specif­i­cally asked to see the na­tive breeds. She has High­lands her­self, but is very knowl­edge­able and in­ter­ested in the UK’s other breeds.”

Be­gin­nings of the herds

As the name sug­gests, the her­itage of these dis­tin­guished cat­tle lies in the Gal­loway region of south­ern Scot­land, yet their ex­act ori­gin is un­clear. One side of the lin­eage is undis­puted: the Bel­ties are closely re­lated to the Gal­loway cow, it­self one of the UK’s most an­cient breeds. When and how the an­i­mal’s white cum­mer­bund came into be­ing are mat­ters of con­jec­ture. The most pop­u­lar the­ory is that Gal­loways were paired with Dutch breed the Belted

“The cat­tle are graz­ing, Their heads never rais­ing; There are forty feed­ing like one!” Wil­liam Wordsworth, ‘Writ­ten in March’

Lak­en­velder in the 17th and 18th cen­turies, when there were strong trad­ing links be­tween the two ar­eas. Why these strains were put to­gether re­mains a mys­tery, but the rea­sons may have been prac­ti­cal as much as aes­thetic. A cross-bor­der trade in cat­tle, recorded as far back as the 1600s, saw reg­u­lar move­ment of beasts from farms in Scot­land to mar­kets in Eng­land. This was the process known as drov­ing, dur­ing which thou­sands of cat­tle could be driven for hun­dreds of miles. Hav­ing white-bel­lied Bel­ties in the herd made it eas­ier for the drovers to see where the cat­tle were head­ing on gloomy days or late eveningst. Ease of keep­ing is one of the main rea­sons for the breed’s en­dur­ing suc­cess. They thrive on a diet of grass and hay rather than grain, live eas­ily in harsh cli­mates and on poor ground. The cat­tle are ef­fi­cient for­agers, eat­ing tough va­ri­eties of grasses other an­i­mals will not touch. Belted Gal­loways have been used for con­ser­va­tion graz­ing in a va­ri­ety of land­scapes, from chalk grass­land in Sur­rey to lime­stone pas­tures in York­shire, and bleak heath­land in Dart­moor to wet moor­land in Corn­wall.

Three of the first foun­da­tion herds were es­tab­lished in the south of Scot­land. Ex­actly when is now un­known, partly be­cause of a fire which de­stroyed many records. The fourth herd, be­long­ing to Gen­eral Sir Ian Hamil­ton, the Bri­tish Com­man­der-in-Chief at Gal­lipoli, be­gan in Sus­sex in the late 1920s be­fore be­ing moved to a farm near Mel­rose on his death. Sir Ian pre­sented one bull to his great friend and Beltie en­thu­si­ast, Sir Win­ston Churchill. Churchill went on to keep sev­eral on his Chartwell Manor es­tate in Kent, de­scrib­ing them as the finest breed in the world. Keep­ers like Anne Bell share a deep and gen­uine pas­sion for the breed. She says her fam­ily some­times tease her that her cows al­ways have to come first, but they un­der­stand how much she loves them, and why. “They’ve given me so much over the years and been such an im­por­tant part of ev­ery­thing,” she says. “I can’t imag­ine my life with­out them.”

Anne Bell has had a suc­cess­ful show­ing ca­reer with her Belted Gal­loways. She is pic­tured lead­ing Mochrum Jadee in the winners’ pa­rade at the Royal High­land Show in 2009. Cham­pion Clifton Her­cules, now a stock bull (be­low). Clifton Ab­so­lutely Fab­u­lous, who won the Heifer Year­ling class at the Great York­shire Show in 2017 (bottom).

Belted Gal­loways are long-lived, thriv­ing into their twen­ties. A hardy breed, their thick, coarse outer coat pro­tects them from the damp and wet, and hair in their ears pre­vents frost­bite.

Chil­dren get in­volved in show­ing this gen­tle breed, too.

The breed is pop­u­lar for con­ser­va­tion graz­ing schemes, where an­i­mals are in­tro­duced to im­prove veg­e­ta­tion and habi­tat. Here, a herd grazes conif­er­ous wood­land in Tarn Hows, Cum­bria.

Belted Gal­loway dams are very pro­tec­tive of their off­spring.

While black is the most com­mon colour, Bel­ties can also be red and dun, all with the white band.

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