Galloway Cattle: Heritage Livestock Breeds

Galloway cattle mature quickly and produce a lean beef on a diet of grass and fewer grains.

| July 2010

Galloway cattle are a heritage livestock breed known to produce high-quality meat on a diet of free-range pasture alone, making it a good breed for a homesteader looking to be completely self-sufficient and who wants to produce the healthiest, leanest meat without sacrificing an ounce of flavor.

The land known as Galloway lies north and east over the border of the Cheviot Hills, dividing England from Scotland. Once covered in dense oak forests, today the land is varied with green glens, moors, and high hills. Three breeds were once most numerous in Scotland: the Ayrshire, the horned Highland or Kyloe, and the polled Galloway. Of the three, the Galloway was the most popular. The Galloway shares a mutual ancestor with the polled Angus, which would later become important worldwide. Many sixteenth-century writers remarked on the large numbers and excellent quality of the “black cattle” of Galloway. Although the cattle were called “black,” they were also dun, red, brindled, linebacked, or marked with white.

Galloway cattle were raised mainly for beef, especially in the hills, where the cattle grazed all winter. On the green lowlands, the calves shared their mothers’ rich milk with the dairymaids. The cattle were generally grazed until the age of three, when they were ready to be driven south to England. After walking the long distance to Norfolk, the cattle were fattened and then sold on the London market. Galloway beef was renowned for its fine marbling, which makes the beef tender and juicy. Like the Highland, it lacked an excessive layer of fat under the skin.

The Scottish cattle-driving trade flourished for about one hundred years. After the cattle trade ended in the 1840s, Galloways were kept mainly in the hills. Their survival was insured by the success of crossbreeding Galloway cows with Whitebred Shorthorn bulls, which contributed a more rapid maturity. Combined with the excellent beef qualities, longevity, and hardiness of the Galloway, the resultant crossbred cows produced calves economically in the borderlands. This crossbred was known as the Blue-Grey, and it remains popular today in Scotland and England.

The medium-sized Galloway resembles the Highland somewhat in the face, ears, and coat but also the Angus in compactness and shortness of leg. The breed has always been polled, and any appearance of horns was seen as proof of crossbreeding. The coat has long been the Galloway’s distinguishing feature, and the breed is said to have more hairs per square inch than any other domestic cattle breed. The long, shaggy overcoat fringes the face and ears and covers the tail. The dense, soft undercoat is described as mossy and has a texture similar to sealskin. This double coat keeps the Galloway warm and dry in wet and cold weather. The outer coat is shed out in hot summers. The Galloway’s furry hide has been used for coats or blankets.

Scottish farmers traditionally believed that black colored Galloways were especially hardy through the winter, and the other traditional colors grew rarer. By the 1880s, the belted Galloway was less common than in the early years of the century, and the brindle and linebacked Galloways disappeared.

Ross Echols
1/20/2011 8:30:48 AM

I find the idea keeping old breeds of livestock alive fascinating. I would love to have a pasture full of these woolly, panda colored animals

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