Blackcraig, Corsock, near Castle Douglas, is the home of John and Ann Finlay and although it is a harsh environment for any farmer and their stock, here the Galloway breed thrives, having done so for many years.
Mr Finlay says the breed is one of the few which will prosper on what he describes as their ‘very hard hill farm’, given the breed’s hardy nature and reputation as easy calving. More recently, Mr Finlay says the increase in demand for the breed’s meat has further cemented its position on-farm.
The Blackcraig herd of pedigree Galloways is 120 strong, with numbers increasing significantly over the past four years since the family bought neighbouring farm, Corse, to allow son Iain, now 28, to join the family business, living there with his partner Blythe.
Until then, 40 cows were run, but this land purchase commanded an increase in herd size and heifers were retained to grow numbers. Further plans are afoot to take numbers to 150 cows.
Mr Finlay explains there are four types of Galloway cattle: the black ones which the Finlays run, the iconic Belted Galloway, which share a breed society with the White Galloway, and the Riggit Galloway, which can be recognised by the white stripe which runs down its back and has its own society.
The black Galloways tend to be bigger animals, says Mr Finlay, adding they are often the type of choice for commercial farmers.
He says: “They are good commercial animals for hill ground which produce quality meat. There is not really another breed which will produce in this environment so well. They are easy calving and we out-winter all cows.”
With 11 Royal Highland breed championships under their belt, victorious animals include:
Popularity of the breed is on the rise and Mr Finlay suggests this is due to the increased cost of keeping most cattle breeds. The Galloway on the other hand needs less inputs in comparison to continental breeds and do not require winter accommodation.
He says: “They will not live on nothing, as some people may suggest, but they certainly are cheaper to keep than some continental breeds.”
Although Galloway herds are densest in their county of origin, Mr Finlay says they can be found in big numbers in Devon too, with a well-supported society sale at Tavistock.
Mr Finlay describes the Galloway as having similar qualities to the Aberdeen-Angus, having originally been part of the same herd book, although he adds the Galloway is hardier.
As well as these easy care traits, Mr Finlay says he is aiming to breed cows which are good on their legs and feet and are long in the body to produce the maximum amount of available meat.
“They must be good milkers. We would cull a cow which did not milk well. Fertility is good, and we rarely struggle to get anything back into calf,” says Mr Finlay. The breed is also known for its longevity and Mr Finlay says it is not uncommon for cows to live until 13 years of age and still produce a calf.
Cows calve on 81 hectares (200 acres) of hill ground, with the main group calving from September to November and then a smaller group from March to April. Cows are checked twice a day and Mr Finlay says it is rare for them to require assistance at calving. Last year, of the 90 cows calved, only two required assistance.
Spring calving cows never see any concentrates, but receive grass silage through winter. Cows calving in autumn receive 1.5kg cake, all of which is bought in.
Heifers calve at 2.5 to three years of age and Mr Finlay says on their type of ground, which is largely peat or stone, females will last longer if they are given a little extra time to mature before being served.
Buying the other farm has really increased their available shed space and weaned calves now spend winter months under cover. When housed, bulling heifers receive 1.5kg/day of cake and silage, while steers have 2.5kg cake.
All the Finlays’ steers are bought by Calum McGinley, farm manager at Kilnford Farm Shop, Dumfries, and leave the farm at 12-18 months. Mr McGinley finishes them to sell through the shop which sells 300 Galloway steers per year. Excess heifers are sold through Castle Douglas market, with prices topping at 7,000gns.
The herd is run with a commercial beef production mentality, but the family also enjoys its own share of success in the showring, having won 11 Royal Highland breed championships in recent times.
Just two years ago at the World Galloway Congress, staged at Dumfries show, Blackcraig Sid, the farm’s biggest ever bull at 1,400kg, went on to win inter-breed and breed champion.
Mr Finlay says they will also aim to breed a few stock bulls each year, with seven sold last year at one to two years of age, either through society sales at Castle Douglas and Carlisle or privately on-farm.
“Bulls have to have good temperaments and be easy to work with, while having good width, a big top and carry themselves with a good head.”
John also believes Galloways are a solid crossing choice in a commercial suckler herd, saying some of the best animals he has ever seen have been Galloway cross Salers cows put to Limousins and Galloways crossed with South Devons.
In terms of the herd’s own breeding, the two main bulls the Finlays use were bought as embryos. These were taken from cow Diamond B Adelaide, which the family saw while a trip to Canada and went on to purchase and flush, producing two heifers and two bulls – Blackcraig Vagrant and Blackcraig Vagabond.
One of the heifers, Blackcraig Bertha, also went on to be reserve inter-breed at Stewartly show.
AI is used to introduce new genetics into the herd from overseas, from countries such as Canada and Australia which, along with Germany, are some of the biggest Galloway-keeping countries in the world.
Galloway semen is now available from most semen companies.
The society has been awarded £35,000 from the Rural Enterprise Local Action Group to deliver ‘Defining Galloway beef’, a two-year project designed to stimulate market demand for the breed’s meat.
The project will include the development and launch of a quality assurance and traceability scheme, help young farmers and new entrants attend three international cattle events, develop an education toolkit for schools and seek supply chain partnerships to improve consumer access to Galloway Beef.
The need for the project has arisen from concerns over the way the term ‘Galloway beef’ is being used across the south of Scotland due to the dual meaning of the term; it can either mean beef from Galloway cattle or beef from the Dumfries and Galloway region.
The society has received Rural Development Programme LEADER funding which it will match and a logo is being created to identity meat from the Galloway breed.
Mr Finlay says: “The creation of a logo has certainly raised awareness and can be used by retailers and food service providers alike. As a society, we are trying to increase demand and, in the long-term, we hope this will lead to a premium being developed on the beef.