The Mochrum herd of Belted Galloways have a long association with the Royal Highland Show and last year took the breed championship. Lynsey Clark reports.
One of the most striking cattle breeds at the Royal Highland, Belted Galloways are crowd- pleasers for exhibitors and spectators alike.
With their distinct white belts and astute characters, they are a breed which evoke a particular passion in their handlers, too.
That was evident with Lady Flora Stuart, one of the most recognisable names in the Belted Galloway world. At her home, Old Place of Mochrum, at Drumwalt, near Newton Stewart, she devoted her life to the land and livestock of her family’s estate and travelled the world promoting the breed.
Her nurturing of the historic Mochrum herd – one of the breed’s founding herds, established by Flora’s grandfather, the 5th Marquis of Bute – made it one of the most successful in the country.
Miss Flora sadly passed away in 2005. Some years later, there was another sudden loss at Mochrum, with herd manager John McTurk’s untimely death in 2014.
However, the legacy left behind by those two breed stalwarts is in safe hands. Mochrum Estate is now run by Miss Flora’s cousin, David Bertie, and the livestock, 85 Belted Galloway cows and followers and 400 breeding ewes, are managed by Helen Ryman, no stranger to the estate having grown up on a farm two miles away.
Ms Ryman also runs her own farm and flock of Texels, seven miles away, with partner Chris Stead, a builder who helps out on the estate too.
Helen had assisted with the sheep on Mochrum Estate for several years, but her enthusiasm for the Belted breed and, in particular, the Mochrum herd and its history, has helped her ‘learn on the job’ with the cattle.
She says: “I am fascinated by the history of the herd. Every cow here can be traced back to the breed’s first herd book in 1921. A lot of the cows are 18 or 19 years old, so you do not have to look back too many generations to get to that time.”
Helen is in charge of 324 hectares (800 acres) between Drumwalt Farm and The May, 300ha (741 acres) of which she would class as ‘better ground’, with the rest being rougher and peat-bog type land.
Not many breeds would thrive on such terrain, but the Belties do and their abilities to be entirely outwintered and do well on a low-input system are what have kept them there for more than 100 years.
Helen says they also help improve the land, making it better for the sheep.
She explains: “They are traditional, native cattle, and they are here to work and do their job to earn their keep. They are not just here to look pretty on the hill.
“They are in tune with their environment and can find shelter or shade when needed. In almost four years of being here, we have had to calve four cows, so they need very little intervention.”
The herd is gradually moving towards autumn calving, with all bar 10 now calving at that time of year. As they are brought in from the hill to calve, this allows the fields to be freed up in the spring for lambing.
There are seven stock bulls on-farm, but Helen is also keen to use AI (which she can do herself) and to flush a few of the best cows, to help progress some of the breeding lines. There are also hopes to increase numbers of the red variety, of which there is currently one, and to re-introduce some Dun cattle.
“We run a low-input system, but that does not mean the cattle are not well looked after,” she adds.
“They are vaccinated and we use modern techniques to improve the management of the herd, such as EID tags.
“They are handled a lot, but not pampered, and are very much naturally done, working cattle.
“As a result, we have a very healthy herd. We hardly ever have to use antibiotics and the cows easily have a calf every year into their late teens.”
Regular handling does, however, make it easy for Helen to select and halter train potential show stars, keeping up a tradition set by Miss Flora, who was always keen to support the local and national shows.
Mochrum cattle have secured many championships over the years, and Helen was delighted to continue this success at last year’s Royal Highland, when Mochrum Lilac 6 stood breed champion and its daughter was junior champion. It comes from a strong family line, with dam and grand-dam both being past winners at Ingliston.
“We normally go to six shows through the summer – the Highland and the Great Yorkshire, plus the local ones, Wigtown, Stranraer, Dumfries and Stewartry,” she says.
“It does take up a lot of the summer, but we love doing it and there is no doubt it is great promotion for the herd and the breed as a whole.
“The Royal Highland is one of the most organised shows. It has a good structure to it, which is good for the exhibitors. Showing cattle was a new experience for us, but the other breeders were so welcoming and helped Chris and I find our feet.
“It is a very friendly society and at shows, there is great banter both before and after the judging.”
Helen admits she has not had much time to think about the shows this year, with the late spring, but she hopes to have a bull, a cow and two heifers at the Highland later this month.
And, following last year’s victory, she and Chris have an all-expenses paid trip to Canada to look forward to later in the year.
“After winning at the Highland, Mochrum Lilac 6 was put forward for a competition run by Thecattlemarket.net which saw her compete against champions from the major shows around the world,” explains Helen.
“Judged by a panel of four judges, plus an online vote, she ended up winning the Galloway section and result, we’re getting to go to Canada and visit some herds over there, which we are excited about.”
Back in Wigtownshire, Helen is optimistic about the breed’s future, having seen an increase in demand both at home and abroad.
“We have exported to Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria and southern Ireland in the past few years, and we sell a lot of heifers privately off the farm.
“At Carlisle and Castle Douglas sales, heifers regularly fetch up to 3,200gns, which is great money considering they do not cost a lot to get them to that stage.
“We sell store calves at those centres too, where there is a good market for them,” says Helen, who hopes to start selling pedigree bulls through the market in the future.
“We use a lot of home-bred bulls on the herd, and of the ones that we are not going to breed with, we sell quite a few to the dairy industry for putting on heifers. They are an easy-calving choice and the calves are hardy and instantly recognisable as Beltie-cross calves.
“They are definitely increasing in popularity. There is a noticeable shift back towards native cattle and Belted Galloways are a low-input, viable commercial breed that can thrive on very little.”