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The Belted Galloway is a heritage beef breed of cattle originating from Galloway in the west side of southern Scotland, adapted to living on the poor upland pastures and windswept moorlands of the region. The exact origin of the breed is unclear although it is often surmised that the white belt that distinguishes these cattle from the native black Galloway cattle may be as a result of cross breeding with Dutch Lakenvelder belted cattle. It is the belt that gives them their name.
Belted Galloways are primarily raised for their quality marbled beef, although they are sometimes milked and purchased to adorn pastures due to their striking appearance.
In the United States, Belted Galloways are often nicknamed Oreo cows because their color pattern is reminiscent of an Oreo cookie, the sandwich cookie consisting of two chocolate disks with a cream filling in between.
The origin of the white belt is unknown, but generally presumed to come from cross breeding with Dutch Belted cattle. A Polled Herd Book was started in 1852 which registered both Aberdeen-Angus and Galloways. Galloway breeders acquired their own herd book in 1878. The Dun and Belted Galloway Association was formed in Scotland in 1921, and in 1951 the name of the organization was changed to the Belted Galloway Society and dun cattle were no longer registered. It also keeps and records pedigrees for Belted Galloways and oversees the registration of White and Red Galloways. Currently in the UK there is a thriving breeding programme overseen and guided by the Belted Galloway Cattle Society. Belted Galloways were first imported to the United States by Harry A. Prock of Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania in the late 1940s. The Belted Galloway Society, Inc. was formed in the United States in the early 1950s.
Belted Galloways, also known as Belties, are currently listed with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy as a "watched" breed, which means there are fewer than 2,500 annual registrations in the United States and a global population of less than 10,000. In 2007 they were formally removed from the UK Rare Breeds Survival Trust's watch list, having recovered sufficiently from the devastation of the foot and mouth crisis of the early 2000s, to have reached in excess of 1500 registered breeding females.
Galloway cattle are naturally polled. The most visible characteristics of the Belted Galloway are its long hair coat and the broad white belt that completely encircles the body. Its coarse outer coat helps shed the rain, and its soft undercoat provides insulation and waterproofing, enabling the breed to happily overwinter outside. Black Belties are most prominent, but Dun and Red Belties are also recognized by breed societies, the latter being comparatively rare and sought after. A female Belted Galloway cannot be registered in the Herd Book if it has white above the dewclaw other than the belt, but can be registered in the Appendix. A bull can only be registered in the Herd book if it has no other white than the belt.
Bulls weigh from 1,700 pounds (770 kg) to 2,300 pounds (1045 kg) with the average being 1,800 pounds (820 kg). Cows weigh from 1,000 pounds (450 kg) to 1,500 pounds (675 kg) with the average being 1,250 pounds (565 kg). Calves generally weight from 40 pounds to 60 pounds. Belties are generally of a quiet temperament, but still maintain a strong maternal instinct and will protect a calf against perceived threats.
Belties are well-suited for rough grazing land and will utilize coarse grasses other breeds would shun. They are able to maintain good condition on less than ideal pasture, and produce a high quality beef product on grass alone. The USDA Cycle IV Germ Plasm Evaluation Program at the Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) showed that Galloway crosses placed at the top of the chart for flavor, juiciness and tenderness when compared to eleven other breeds.
Much has been written about these cattle over the years. William M'Combie, one of the founding fathers of the modern Angus breed, made the following comment about Galloway cattle:
"The Galloway undoubtedly has many great qualifications. On poor land they are unrivaled, on land so poor our Aberdeens could not subsist upon it. There is no other breed worth more by the pound weight than a first-class Galloway. The Galloways are native to the country and incapable of improvement. The intelligent Galloway breeder is now perfectly satisfied that his stock can only be improved by adherence to the pure breed, and by care and selection."
Perhaps the most authoritative reference work on the breed is An Illustrated History of Belted Cattle by Lord David Stuart, himself one of the foremost breeders of Galloway cattle in Scotland during the 20th century.
In the U.S., the majority of breeders are in the East, with herds throughout New England, the Midwest, and the Southeast. The breed is slowly moving westward and there are now herds in the western states of California, Oregon and Texas. The Belted Galloway Society, Inc. breeders may be accessed through The Canadian Livestock Corporation's website, www.clrc.ca which contains a listing of breeders by state.
There are a number of Beltie breeders throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK with a noticeable concentration in the breed's home area of Dumfries and Galloway. The Belted Galloway Cattle Society holds its Annual General Meeting and Breed Society Show and Auction every October in Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway.
Belties are also raised in Australia with herds found throughout the country, even in sub-tropical areas. A small number of Belted Galloway herds are present in New Zealand and Canada.
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