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‘Oreo cows’ members of oldest bovine breed

When motorists pass by Hospitality Farms, often they do a double take. Some even turn around to see if their eyes have deceived them.

It’s not often one sees a pasture full of “Oreo cows,” but that’s what one finds at Mack and Ginger Gentry’s Brooklyn Road Farm in Sutherlin.

Nicknamed “Oreo cows,” Belted Galloways are characterized by the unique combination of certain special qualities which taken together, distinguish them from other beef cattle -— namely that white belt around the middle of their black bodies.

Belties are members of the Galloway family of beef cattle, probably the oldest breed in the world today, which originated in the mountainous areas of Southwestern Scotland. 

Formerly known as the province of Galloway, including the present counties of Dumfries, Kirkcudbright and Wigtown, this area contains some of the coldest and most rough hill land in Britain. 

Scotland is about the size of the state of Maine.

The Galloway cattle have been recognized as a distinct breed as far back as the 17th century, and one particularly prized strain, the Belted Galloway has been bred with a white band around the body to distinguish them from other cattle.

Their most important trait, the economical production of beef under range conditions, stems from the fact that Galloways have been bred from their origin for beef production, according to the Gentry couple. 

Many other breeds were bred for milk and meat production and were kept in sheds during rough weather or handfed; not so the Galloway.

The grazing and browsing qualities of the Galloway cattle are amazing. They have tremendous capacity and appetite for many plants that other cattle would not consume. 

This range-bred background is why Galloways, unsurpassed in foraging ability, are capable of ranging many miles each day for grass and water and will thrive under conditions that would be disastrous to other breeds.

When properly managed, Belties have a pleasant and agreeable temperament, are quiet and docile and easily handled, the Gentrys agreed. 

Belties do not develop much fat under their hides; instead they have a double coat of hair consisting of a dense, soft, short undercoat and a long, shaggy overcoat, which is usually cast in hot weather. 

In contrast, most other British beef breeds put on a thick coat of uneconomic fat under their hides to provide the necessary insulation for protection against severe weather conditions.

Disease resistance runs high in the breed as a result of having been bred for centuries under “survival of the fittest” type environments. 

In addition to this resistance to diseases, they have a “will to live” that is superior to most, if not all other breeds of cattle, according to the Sutherlin couple. 

Congenital problems such as dwarfism are unknown to Galloways.  The purebred Galloway will remove the horns in virtually all breed crosses. They are resistant to pink eye, insects and foot problems, they added.

The Belties are relatively free of calving problems too. The cows produce a sufficient amount of rich milk to raise a husky calf, which at 205 days will frequently wean at half the dam’s weight. 

Galloways and their crosses, when properly finished, will dress out at 60 to 62 percent of live weight.

Foundation stock of the present Belted Galloway herds in the United States apparently date back to an importation from Scotland around 1953 by A. H. Chatfield Jr., Aldermere Farms, Rockport, Maine. 

Since then there have been no import restrictions.

 Additional Galloways have been brought over, and herds gradually established from Maine to California and from eastern Canada to Florida and Texas.

The Gentrys purchased their first Registered Belted Galloways in June 1989, and to their knowledge they owned the first ones in Halifax County.

In October 1994 the president of the Belted Galloway Society of Great Britain, Flora Stuart, and Scottish breeders Irene and Basil Wilson visited Hospitality Farms to view the Gentry’s cattle.

Mack retired from United Parcel Service in 2000, and by 2004 he decided it was time to slow down on his farming operation, so he sold 290 head of Belted Galloways. 

They now have a herd of 12 and have time to really enjoy them with little work. 

According to Mack, when he is working at the farm on Brooklyn Road, people often stop and take pictures of the “Oreo” cattle. 

Soon, passersby may have to take another Kodak moment when they travel past Hospitality Farms.

 

Seems Ginger now is pondering the idea of purchasing several Alpacas to complement their growing farm family.