Galloway cattle have been stalwarts of the Dumfriesshire hills for hundreds of years, and with the growing focus on sustainable farming, demand is rising for this hardy native breed. Lynsey Clark reports.
At the society’s Castle Douglas sale this spring, averages increased for both male and female Galloways, with a new female record set at 12,500gns. Breed secretary, Dot Goldie, says interest has continued after the sale, with a steady stream of enquiries for people looking for stock.
“I think people are seeing how well aligned Galloways are with environmentally-friendly farming systems, which is only going to become more important over the next few years,” she adds.
It was the breed’s ability to prosper on hill ground that first appealed to David and Rosemarie Cornthwaite, who established their Balgray Galloway herd in 2009. They now run 90 pedigree cows alongside a commercial suckler herd of 370 cows and 1,500 ewes.
Mr Cornthwaite says: “We took on more land in 2005, hillier ground that we thought would be suited to a native breed. We decided to try some Galloways and were really impressed with them, so the herd grew from there.”
The couple is based at Balgray Hill, Lockerbie, a Balgray Estate farm which they took on 30 years ago after moving up from Kirkby Lonsdale. In that time, they have doubled the amount of land which they run to 910 hectares (2,250 acres).
When building up the Galloway herd, they initially bought 14 females from the Blackcraig, Barlaes, Gall-way, Over Barskeoch and Penninghame herds. Later, to further increase numbers, bulling heifers were bought from Ballavair and Ben Lomond.
Mr Cornthwaite says: “We aimed for a modern type of female, with a larger frame, to meet the needs of the commercial market. We did not have a set budget, but we bought some privately and some at sales, with the most expensive being 3,000gns.”
One bought at auction as a bulling heifer, Penninghame Queen, turned out to be a shrewd buy at 750gns. This Blackcraig Lucrative daughter has bred exceptionally well for the herd, with sons selling up to 5,000gns and daughters sporting plenty of style – three are included in this year’s show team.
Mr Cornthwaite adds: “We decided to flush Penninghame Queen, because she had been breeding so well and to help boost the numbers in the herd. We have got 12 in-calf heifers to add to the breeding herd this year and then we will stick at that number, around 100.”
Most of the 460 breeding cattle calve in spring at Balgray, with 100 calving in autumn. April is a particularly busy month, with the lambing of the 1,500-ewe flock also taking place then.
The business also includes 50 Boer goats, bred for meat production. Helping with this varied workload at Balgray, are full-time staff Tom McGregor and Jason McKinnel.
Mr Cornthwaite says: “The farm rises to 950ft and ranges from some great land, capable of growing maize, to the roughest of ground."
It is on that rough ground that the Galloways really come into their own. They are out-wintered, at very low cost, as Mr Cornthwaite explains.
“The bulling heifers take two and a quarter bales of haylage through winter; those in-calf go through four and a quarter bales and the cows suckling calves use five and a quarter bales.
“I do not think we could find any other breed that would give the same return from that type of ground, with such ease of management. They are also making the ground better for the sheep, so they work well together.”
Until last year, heifer calves had been retained, to build up herd numbers, while steers were sold as stores to Jock Rome, to be finished for his family’s Kilnford Farm Shop. This year, however, the system will change, as the Cornthwaites are finishing the steers themselves, to be sold through Scotbeef in November, destined for Aldi. That way, they can take advantage of the 30p/kg premium available for Galloway or Galloway cross cattle.
In addition, now that female numbers are reaching their peak, they sold in-calf heifers at this year’s Castle Douglas sale in March, which they will continue to do annually, as well as selling some privately. The team of five heifers in March averaged £2,500.
Balgray bulls have been sold both privately and at Castle Douglas for a few years now, with 2020 being the most successful yet. Oryan of Balgray, by Troloss Impeccable and out of the privately bought Penninghame Urania, sold at 11,000gns to the Fingland and Over Barskeoch herds. Another Troloss Impeccable son worth a mention is Nucamp of Balgray, which stood junior male champion at the Royal Highland Show in 2018 and then sold privately to the Finlay family’s Blackcraig herd.
Impeccable was bought jointly for 9,200gns in 2015, along with Kirkstead, and is one of the three current stock bulls at Balgray. The others are the 8,000gns purchase, Ben Lomond Blackthorn, and the home-bred Octavius Of Balgray, which is a son of Impeccable and out of Penninghame Queen.
The Galloway bulls play their part in the commercial herd to.
Mr Cornthwaite says: “We calve most of the commercial heifers at two years old. They run with the Limousin bull for three weeks and then the Galloway. The Galloway calves from the Limousin and Simmental cross heifers are small, vigorous calves. They grow into long, deep bodied cattle, with amazing weight gain. And we have kept many of those heifers for breeding.”
The Balgray team missed their usual outings to the shows last summer. They were glad to be at the 2021 Royal Highland Showcase, where they won junior bull with Pieros of Balgray and junior heifer with Phoebe of Balgray. They will also be taking a team to the Great Yorkshire in July.
Mr Cornthwaite says the farm team have always enjoyed showing cattle and they have also ventured further afield, to some of the Galloway national events.
At the Galloway National Show in 2016, the team secured the female championship and reserve overall award, with Lady Silverbell 11 of Gall-way, one of the herd’s foundation females, bought privately from Dennis and Margaret Gall.
While gearing up for the return of some events this summer, the Cornthwaites are also busy preparing for the reduction sale of some of their commercial cattle herd on June 22, at Lockerbie, as they look to reduce their workload. They will be selling 120 cows, mainly Limousin and Simmental cross first to third calvers.
Mr Cornthwaite says: “We are not getting any younger and we are looking to cut back the commercial cattle numbers to ease the pressure a bit.”