History & Attributes

The Belted Galloway...An Old Scottish Breed

The unique appearance of Belted Galloway cattle inspires many questions about their origins. With black, red or dun color sandwiched about a white middle, they are familiarly known as ‘Belties’ among breeders of the animals. Though references to ‘sheeted’ cattle occur in literature and art as early as the 11th Century, the Belted Galloway’s first recorded history indicates that they developed during the 16th Century in the former Galloway district of Scotland, a rugged and hilly seacoast region where hardiness was necessary for survival.

The British Isles then and now raised solid-colored, polled, shaggy-coated Galloway cattle generally considered to have evolved from an early Celtic breed. Precisely when and where selective breeding of the Belted variety of Galloway began is shrouded in mystery, though theories abound.

In our Herd Book Volume I early U.S. breeder Mims Wilkinson, Jr. wrote, “It has been stated by some authorities that belted, or sheeted, cattle in England go back to the age of Charles II, although they are first mentioned in Scotland in the latter part of the 18th Century. The polled characteristic of Galloways sets them apart from every other breed, they being derived from the original British polled cattle of antiquity.

Although it is impossible to affirm with certainty whether Belted Galloways were bred from cattle imported to Britain or native cattle, or a combination of the two, the logical conclusion is that they originated from a cross of Black Galloways with Dutch Belted. Though no documentary evidence is available to substantiate the assumption, the known prepotency of the Dutch cattle lends weight to this view, and the frequent traffickings between Scotland and the Low Countries in the 17th and 18th Centuries would provide opportunities for the importation of a few Dutch Belted cattle. The horns, the only essential difference, would disappear with the predominance of Galloway blood.

There is little doubt that the cattle of the ancient Celtic people of Britain were predominantly black and that the Highland, Galloway and Welsh black are derived from the same stock, which has become diversified through time by selection and environment.

In the Galloway cattle there were originally various markings and colors[with] the polled characteristic, the coat, the conformation and the fine carcass quality setting them apart from other breeds. Galloways originally were black, spotted, white-faced, red, dun, white and belted.

Although the white belt is a dominant genetic trait, occasionally solid black calves are born now in belted herds, and belted calves are born in Black Galloway herds.
Mr. Wilkinson cited as authorities for the above paragraphs Lord David Stuart’s 1970 publication, An Illustrated History of Belted Cattle; and George Culley’s 1786 treatise, Observations on Livestock. Early standards for the breed remain valid today, except that the body should have less depth and the legs be longer than formerly. Lord Stuart’s interesting book included this description:

The cattle of the breed are of typical beef conformation. A good head, especially in bulls, is considered important, and this should be broad with the crown low and flat. The nostrils should be wide and the eyes large and prominent; the ears moderate in length, broad, pointing forwards and upwards with a fringe of long hair. The neck should be fairly long and fit well into the shoulders.

The body should be deep and full through the heart with a level top and straight underline; the shoulders fine and straight; the breast full and deep, with the ribs well sprung; the hindquarters long. The flank should be deep and full. The thighs should be deep and fairly straight; the legs short and clean with fine bone, and the tail well set on.

The skin should be mellow and moderately thick, covered with soft, wavy hair with a mossy undercoat. The coat is most important, as it protects the animal. Hard, wiry hair with no undercoat is objectionable, and so is a jet black coat. This should be black with a brownish tinge.

Weights for mature Belted Galloways in North America vary in accordance with their environment. In general, the mature Belted Galloway bull at age 5 weighs within the 1800-lb. to 2000-lb. range.

The Belted Galloway heifer is generally bred at age 14 to 18 months, with many breeders electing to breed at 700 to 800 lbs. without regard to months of age. The mature Beltie cow at age 3 or 4 averages 1100 to 1300 lbs. She can be expected to annually produce a healthy calf well into her teen years. At birth bull calves usually weigh 70 to 80 lbs., heifer calves about 10 lbs. less.and conformation should be considered before mature weight. There are some very fine bulls producing excellent progeny whose mature weights are less than 1800 lbs.

The Beltie as a beef animal produces exceptionally lean and flavorful meat, with carcass dressed weights well in excess of 60 percent of live weight. Winter warmth is provided by the double coat of hair, rather than the layer of backfat most breeds require. The Belted Galloways’ heritage has conditioned them to survive in very harsh climates, and U.S. breeders have discovered that the thrifty, medium-sized animals more than earn their way in any beef herd.