The Galloway is an ancient breed that arose in southwestern Scotland. It probably descended from the ancient Celtic cattle that gave rise to other Scottish breeds like the Angus and the Highland. For many years, furry cattle in all colors, shapes, and sizes roamed the forests in a wild state. With time, however, Scottish farmers began to domesticate them to provide their families with milk, beef, and hides.
As the Galloways proved their worth, they gained favor in Scotland. The development of the breed as we know it today, however, began in 1707 with the signing of the Act of Union between England and Scotland. Galloway cattle had long been valued for beef in their native home, but the Act of Union opened the door for trade between two formerly hostile countries. Throughout the 18th century, somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 head of cattle were driven from Scotland annually to be fattened and sold in England. Many of these were Galloways.
The cattle drovers began to discover that there were certain characteristics that they favored in the Galloway herds they were taking to market. For one thing, polled cattle were easier to handle than horned cattle, so the hornless trait was one that began to prevail. For another thing, color became a consideration. Scottish farmers had formerly preferred black Galloways almost to the exclusion of all others because they were believed to be hardier in the winter. Now, however, the belted Galloway, believed to have come from a cross with the Dutch Belted breed, came into favor. The broad, white band around the middle was easy to see on a stormy day.
The cattle trade with Britain petered out by the 1840s, and the popularity of the Galloway dwindled with it. Fortunately, the breed was exported to Toronto, Canada, in 1853. From there it was introduced to America by Michigan State College in 1866. Its innate ability to thrive in the harsh conditions of the northern Great Plains made it a resounding success, and more Galloways were imported from Scotland throughout the 1880s.
For a time the Galloway vied with the Angus, another new Scottish breed, for popularity as a beef breed. From its first home in the upper Midwest, the furry cattle spread westward all the way to Montana. More variety was introduced, as well. The attractive belted variety of Galloway came to the United States for the first time in 1939, and was imported again in 1951. Prior to that another unique color pattern was discovered in a herd in Nebraska, white fur on a black hide.
The Galloway might have continued to rival the Angus, at least in the more northerly states, for years to come. Most breeders, however, decided to focus on show characteristics. Disputes and factions arose as fad followed fad. The breed’s reputation began to suffer, and the final blow came when two brothers in Missouri imported 1,000 head of cull Galloway cattle and sold them as breeding stock.
The popularity of the Galloway has been up and down since then as the tug-of-war match continues between show breeders seeking perfect conformation and commodity producers selecting for bigger, faster-growing cattle. Most recently the breed has risen in numbers due to interest from hobby farmers. Most of the Galloway population seems to be concentrated in the Eastern and Midwestern states, but it has been working its way westward once again.
The Galloway is primarily a beef breed, and one of the favorites with homesteaders and direct marketers. Some belted Galloways, particularly the miniature ones, can be milked, however.
One of the historic uses of the breed is production of hides. In the Old West, a Galloway hide made a good substitute for a buffalo robe. Today those furry coats are still used to make durable coats, blankets, and floor mats.
But there are other uses of the versatile Galloway! Some people find that their good looks and pleasant demeanor make them good additions to a petting zoo. Their affinity for eating weeds and brush suits them to conservation grazing programs. Finally, a Galloway can also make an effective guardian for a flock of sheep.
Two personality traits stand out in the Galloway breed. The first is its calm, friendly disposition with humans. Cows and bulls alike are typically gentle and easy to handle, even trainable.
The second trait is a deep-seated hatred of dogs. When anything that remotely resembles a dog appears on the scene, the whole herd will take the offensive. This instinct ensures the safety of the calves. Unfortunately, it can also translate into some less desirable characteristics. For example, the Galloway can be extremely wary of anything unfamiliar, and a few cows may also bully the other calves.
The Galloway has a sound structure and a superior immune system. Its feet and legs are resistant to breakdowns, and its strong lungs enable it to thrive at high altitudes. Pinkeye is rarely an issue in this breed.
Heat stress, however, can be a problem in climates where summers are hot. Adult Galloways can shed to cope with the temperatures, but calves and yearlings suffer because they do not shed for the first time until about two years of age.
Unfortunately, the belted variety is often considered a novelty animal and is not always bred for quality and health. Some of these may have poor udders. Always purchase cattle from reputable sources.
- Size and disposition suitable for first-time cattle owners.
- Low impact on pastures and fences.
- Extreme hardiness.
- Ability to thrive in the harshest of winters.
- Ability to maintain and gain weight under poor-quality grazing conditions.
- Willingness to eat the weeds in the pasture.
- Longevity (cows often calve annually until ages 15 to 20).
- Calving ease.
- Excellent calf vigor.
- Rich butter.
- Ability to finish well for beef on grass alone.
- Low levels of waste fat when slaughtered.
- Good production of high-value cuts.
- Lean meat.
- Low fat and cholesterol according to Canadian studies.
- Exceptional tenderness, texture, flavor, and juiciness.
- Premium prices for black Galloways at the sale barn.
- Polling (hornlessness), meat quality, and hybrid vigor when crossed.
- Genetic defects and soundness problems in some belted Galloways due to breeding for appearance.
- Intolerance of sun and hot winds (whites do better in summer).
- Not enough milk production to be considered a dairy breed.
- Slow growth; cannot be finished for beef at an early age.
- Poor prices for belted variety at sale barn.