I’m at an exciting point in my life, and I know it. I’m engaged to the love of my life, doing what I love, and preparing to find my place in the country. Reading about Belted Galloway cattle feeds right into that.
After living in the country for my whole life, I delved into city living when I moved off to college. City living – to some, Lawrence, Kansas, population 80,000 may not be a city, but to me it is – was new, fun and in the end, rewarding. I studied abroad in Australia, near Sidney. I met my future wife bartending in a bar that I will never forget. By and large, college was great. But I’m ready for city living to be a chapter of my life that I’ve closed the book on.
My excitement now is based on finding my place back out where the pavement ends. Gwen’s fine with country living, as long as she is within an hour of a city. Works for me, as in northeastern Kansas it’s pretty easy to reach Topeka, Lawrence and Kansas City in an hour from most rural areas.
And as I look for properties – the spot where I will raise a family – livestock is always on my mind. I have grand plans, all in my head, about what I want to raise and how I want to live. I talk about it at home all the time. I read breed guides to livestock a lot (Storey’s is great). It consumes me, and I love it.
In researching, one breed of cattle that strikes me, and appearance is part of it, is the Belted Galloway, a heritage breed of cattle that is hardy and, as we said in GRIT’s Field Guide to Heritage Cattle, well known for excellent performance on pasture and flavorful beef; perfect. Helen Burkett, an ad account executive, told me she misses raising them for their disposition, their gentle and friendly personality.
It is one breed definitely on my radar. The only real drawback I see is that they don’t have horns – they’re a polled breed. I’ll admit that I do like horns on animals, and why that is is interesting to think about. Of course, I’m a hunter and hunters in general like horns, but I’ll bet I’d like horns even if I didn’t hunt. There’s something primitive about them, something in them that allows me to relate to my ancestors, maybe. I’ll never fashion tools out of them – at least I don’t plan on it – but I like the look of a horned beast; it looks more powerful and majestic.
But horns aren’t always good. Working cattle is different, with different equipment needed to handle and control the horns. And even though Scottish Highland cattle will probably only bump you with a horn in a playful manner, they can be rough without meaning too. That makes Belties slightly safer for children, in my mind. But maybe taking care around animals, especially of the horned variety, is a lesson that needs to be learned on a farm. Safer isn’t necessarily better. As you can see, I’m definitely still wrestling with this, but the Belted Galloway is an animal I’d consider raising.
When it comes to feeding efficiency, Belties are right up there. Jon Bednarksi, a council member on the U.S. Belted Galloway Society, speaks of his friend who has Angus cattle that go through two to three times the amount of hay in the winter time as his Belties. Angus are larger-framed animals, so it takes more to fill them up, and to maintain their condition. Now with steers, it takes the Belties about two years to get to the desired weight, and with the larger breeds it’s in the 16 or 18 month range, but with two to three times the consumption of feed, the efficiency advantage is still with the Belted Galloway.
That efficiency means Belties do well on grass, and the grassfed beef trend sweeping the country is part of the reason for the Belted Galloway’s resurgence in numbers (the breed’s status is Recovering in the ALBC).
Another thing is simply the look of the animal. The stripe on the middle of the animal is a distinguishing characteristic, very recognizable.
For me, as I mentioned earlier, the hardiness of the animal, the fact that it does well on grass, the personality that Helen mentioned, the feeding efficiency Jon mentioned, mothering instincts and extraordinary beef are what do it for me.
The Belted Galloway is available in nearly every state. You can go to the Belted Galloway Society’s website and find Beltie cattle near your homeplace. The 20th National Belted Galloway Sale will be held Saturday, April 24, 2010, in Fryeburg Maine. You can watch live and even bid on animals at this year’s sale using Edgecast. For more information, contact Scot Adams at 207-696-3812 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top Beltie photo courtesy U.S. Belted Galloway Society
Update: I added the second picture of a red Beltie on March 9, 2010. The red Beltie is probably my favorite color of the breed. Second photo courtesy Klover Korners Farm