The Galloway Cattle Society has recently formed a new club within Ireland, with the aim of promoting the breed across the island and developing markets for Galloway beef.
The overall breed society, which is headquartered in Castle Douglas in Scotland, remains responsible for maintaining the registry of Black Galloways in both Britain and Ireland.
The new club sits within the existing Galloway Cattle Society, although local breeders hope it will help raise the profile of the breed across Ireland.
John Smyth from Broughshane, Co Antrim, is one of the local breeders spearheading the new club. He said there are around 40 farmers in Ireland who regularly register pedigree Black Galloway calves with the society.
Around 25 of these breeders are based in NI and the other 15 or so are in the Republic of Ireland, mainly in western counties.
Asides from pedigree breeders, other farmers are still using Galloway genetics, either by breeding pure-bred, non-registered animals, or by cross-breeding.
“We have a list of 112 people in Ireland who use Galloways in pedigree or commercial herds. We see scope to grow this in the future,” John said.
Local breeders want to see a premium price paid for Galloway beef, as this would have a big influence in increasing the number of farmers using Galloway genetics.
The new club is in the early stages of trying to develop markets for beef produced by its members. High-end restaurants and retailers are the target outlets for Galloway beef.
“We see it as a premium beef product that should be sold at a premium price. Eating quality is a key selling point. Beef from Galloways is succulent and flavoursome,” John maintained.
“The beef is flavoured by cattle grazing natural grasses and heather, and there is more marbling in Galloway beef too,” he said.
He thinks there is a good marketing story for Galloway beef, as it could be pitched as a natural, low-input product that comes from small, family farms in upland areas.
John lived in London for 20 years and he saw a trend among affluent consumers in urban areas that could be beneficial to selling beef at a premium price.
“They want to eat less meat, but when it comes to the meat that they do eat, they want it to be high quality,” he said.
If a niche market is established, volumes will be modest, as the number of Galloway cattle in Ireland is relatively low. Despite being a separate pedigree breed, John sees the potential for beef from Belted Galloways to be sold along with Black Galloway beef if there is sufficient demand.
Another strand of the new club’s work will be promoting Galloway cattle for conservation grazing and trying to tap into funding under new agri environment schemes.
Only Irish Moiled Cattle were eligible for support in the Environmental Farming Scheme, although this could potentially be broadened out under the new Farming with Nature package in NI.
Galloways are bred for upland areas, and, like other hardy cattle breeds, their non-selective grazing behaviour can make them useful for removing excess roughage and increasing species diversity in semi natural grasslands.
“We want to highlight how Galloways are suitable to modern environmental thinking. Most breeders use very little imported feedstuffs or fertilisers and have a long grazing season,” John said.
Although the Galloway breed originates from Scotland, the cattle are well suited to the climate and topography of upland areas in Ireland, according to club secretary Cathy O’Hara.
“Galloways are engineered for conditions like what we have here. They do well in high rainfall areas and on rough grazing. They can perform on better-quality grass and meal too though,” she said.
The Rasharkin woman explained that Galloways have a “dual coat”, which allows them to withstand cold and wet weather.
The inner layer, which is soft and fluffy, traps air and provides insulation to stay warm. The outer coat of hair is much thicker and acts as a waterproof layer. The breed is also naturally polled.
“It is a maternal breed, so cows have plenty of milk and are easy calving. The calves are hardy and are quick to get up after calving,” Cathy said.
John Smyth runs 40 pedigree Galloway cows with his father Joseph on their upland farm near Broughshane.
A key focus for the Upper Buckna herd over the years has been to breed size back into Galloways, to make cattle more suitable for commercial use.
“The further down you put the bridge, the further up your profit goes,” Joseph said.
Cows on the farm typically weigh between 600-700kg and calving runs from March to May.
“The cows spend a lot of their life on heather. When calves are weaned in the autumn, they go to field grass until December and then they’re housed,” Joseph said.
“All calves get 1.5kg of meal during their first winter. After that, heifers go to rough grazing and never see meal again. The bullocks go to heather until November,” he explained.
Bullocks are housed again and get silage only during their second winter.
They are grazed on good-quality grass the following summer and get 2.5kg of meal for two months, before finishing in October.
Looking at the most recent kill sheet, seven bullocks had average carcase weight of 399kg. Five of the carcases graded R4 and there were two O+ grades, with fat scores of 3+ and 4-.
Heifers from the Upper Buckna herd are mostly either retained for replacements or sold as breeding stock.
Joseph thinks the breed can have a useful role in producing cross-bred females to be sold as replacement sucklers to lowland farmers.
In the border region of Scotland and England, Blue Grey cows remain a popular suckler cow. They are bred by crossing a White Shorthorn bull to a Black Galloway cow.
“There are other good crosses too. Simmental and Salers bulls produce good sucklers off Galloways,” Joseph said.