Heidi M Sands extols the virtues of the distinctive Beltie.

The Belted Galloway is one of the most distinctive of our native cattle; with his white band around his belly on either a black or dun background there’s no mistaking him. Put a small herd of these cattle together and they’ll draw attention like no other, for their appeal is undeniable and they delight adults and children alike.

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No one seems certain just how these striking looking medium sized cattle originated but it is safe to say that the breed derived from the old Galloway cattle of the south-west of Scotland, most likely in the Galloway hills from where it takes its name.

Although it is generally accepted that some cross-breeding between the old Galloway cattle and the Dutch belted breed known as the Lakenvelder took place during the 17th and 18th centuries, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the old Galloway breed sometimes threw cattle with the odd white marking in the belly area. It also had the ability to throw dun cattle from time to time so it’s no great surprise that crossing some of these individuals with the Dutch cattle fixed the ‘belted’ characteristic within the breed.

Whatever the truth of the origins of the Belties, today’s cattle must conform to breed standards in order to be registered. Stipulations state that cattle must have a complete belt around their middles and that the belt should be no further forward than the shoulder and no further back than the hind leg.

It’s not only their looks that have us noticing them though. These are not only beautiful cattle to look at but hardy too. With coats that can stand a Scottish winter they are capable of living out in all weathers. Not only that, they’ll thrive where other cattle won’t; hill and heather moorland is perfect for these toughies and so long as they can find shelter behind a wall or a stand of trees and are provided with good forage in the worst of the weather, they’ll do well for you. They are also good mothers and long lived. Don’t be fooled though, for while these cattle may look cute and cuddly, they will defend their calves if need be.

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As a beef breed the Beltie falls into the category of slow maturing. This gives the well-marbled beef a lovely flavour and a good texture. He’s perfect for those looking for leaner cuts and a healthy option but Belted Galloway can be difficult to source unless you ask for it specifically. There are though a number of breeders who will supply Beltie beef through box schemes, which is a great way to try something new.

As a smallholders cow the Beltie is perfect. The cows are not only good mothers they also calve with relative ease and the cattle have no particular health problems provided that they receive routine care and attention. Their thick weather resistant coat ensures that rain runs off without the undercoat allowing water through. Give them an open-ended shed in which to shelter when the weather is at its worst and you may well find that they shelter in the lea of it rather than inside. They may however utilise it to good effect in the summer months when the flies and heat bother them most.

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Taking time to get to know your Belties will stand you in good stead when it comes to handling them and whether that is at home or for show purposes the principles are the same. Teaching your cattle to be haltered and to allow you to groom and smarten them up and to be led can be time consuming but done correctly you’ll end up with animals that do you credit.

Using a crush in the first instance will get things off to a good start. It’s also safer for you, for even a weaned calf can be strong to deal with if it’s unrestrained. Once your Beltie is used to being handled, scratched and close by you in this way you can proceed to handling the head before moving on to halter fitting and ultimately tying them up once they have been released from the crush. If you’ve never attempted this before watch the professionals and remember never to leave a tied up beast unattended.

Once any initial resistance has been overcome, and this can take anything from a few hours to a few days, you can proceed to walking your cattle. Again this can be time consuming.

Always begin in a small area and take small steps, quite literally. Use circular directions and don’t expect miracles. Some people prefer to use nose restraints of some kind to restrain cattle that may pull away, but however you decide to proceed always have back up on hand to help if needed. Practice as much as you can it’ll pay off in the end, for having calm, quiet cows at home or in the show ring always pays dividends.

It’s also worth thinking outside of the box with Belties. They make good conservation grazers and can always be relied upon to convert rough or otherwise unusable grazing into beef.

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They have also in the past been used for milking, albeit on more of a smallholder’s scale than in a commercial way, and although I don’t know of anyone currently using Belties in this way crofters of old would certainly have used the old Galloways as a dual purpose breed restricting access of the calf to its mother in order to take what milk they needed for the house or essential butter and cheese production.

Today the Belted Galloway is to be found all over the UK and far from its native Scotland, for it now has an enthusiastic following as far afield as Australia and no wonder really for it is a case of once seen never forgotten.

It’s also worth noting that two other types of Galloway cattle also exist; the black Galloway and the White Galloway. As with the Beltie no-one it seems is certain of the origins of the White Galloway although it’s generally accepted that cross-breeding played its part. Like the Beltie the White Galloway is lovely to look at, hardy and relatively easy to manage. The same can be said of the black Galloway, known simply as the Galloway, which can, just to confuse matters, occasionally throw a red or dun individual.

Whatever your preference there’s no getting away from it, the Belties, and Galloways in general, are simply delightful.

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This article was first published in Smallholder magazine. For more articles like it subscribe here, call 01778 392011 , email subscriptions@warnersgroup.co.uk or buy from your local newsagent.