Belties and Omega 3

By Ulrike Kaufhold – Farm Focus – December 2006

Ulrike & Peter Kaufhold ran a 30 hectare farm in the lower Saxony region of Germany, until 2002 when they decided to retire to the Galloway hills, home of their beloved Black & Belted Galloway Cattle.  In this article Ulrike describes why they have become so passionate about the breed.

In 2002, after our retirement, Peter an I settled in Dallash, on a small farm in the Cairnsmore Hill in Dumfries and Galloway.  In Germany we had been farming Black Galloway Cattle on conservation grassland not far from the North Sea coast, it was a typical wetland area, with rushes and reeds and ground nesting birds.  The Galloways bred very well with us, even though their hardiness was severely tested during the very cold, wet North German winters.  Over the years we sold a considerable number of good pedigree heifers and bulls.  Our most reliable line of business turned out to be selling Galloway beef, which is still very much in demand in Germany.

Germany has always been predominately a dairy country, and it is only since the 1980s herds of suckler cows have become a more frequent sight.  With the introduction of breeds a taste for quality beef slowly developed, and there were some lessons to be learned about hanging beef and cooking it.

Nowadays the Black Galloways are among the 5 most popular beef breeds in Germany.  Not only are the Black Galloways a favourite breed, but at British native beef breeds are extremely popular, large numbers having been imported prior to the introduction of Export Ban on live cattle in 1990.  You will find herds of Belted Galloways, even Red Belties, White Galloways, Highland Cattle, Longhorns, Shorthorns, traditional Herefords and Aberdeen Angus, Welsh Black & Dexters in many parts of Germany.  They are highly valued as low cost cattle for their hardiness, longevity and calving ease, and of course for the tasty beef.  In our heavily industrialized country there was an important job waiting for them; grazing environmentally fragile areas – wetlands, salt marshes, heather, moor land and woods -  which are very poor grazing for dairy cattle and continental beef breeds.  They not only protect but also improve the biodiversity better than any machinery could.

Since we moved to Scotland we have visited several farms in this region and in Cumbria, where British native beef breeds are doing the same job very successfully, and there are many similar projects going on elsewhere in Britain.

Beef customers in Germany appreciate beef from British native breeds for various reasons.  It is regarded as beef which you can eat with a good conscience because:

  • These cattle live in their natural environment, not on slats
  • They are playing an important role in protecting the environment
  • It is healthy beef, produced without antibiotics and concentrates.  These cattle feed predominately on grass and hay or otherwise preserved grass.

At the World Galloway Conference in 1998 Dr Berchtold von Fischer from Switzerland presented “Galloway Beef – Your Healthy Beef”.  He explained the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids on human health and the feeding programme followed by farmers who are producing beef under this scheme, “Your Healthy Beef” is still going strong in Switzerland even now, securing not only high but stable beef prices for the farmers involved.

A lot of scientific research has been carried out during the last decade on omega-3 fatty acids in grass fed beef and their impact on human health. Prof. K. Enders of Germany, and Dr. von Fischer of Switzerland, have published extensively on this subject in the German national beef journal “Fleischrindeer – Journal”.  It is not only important to have sufficient amount of unsaturated fatty acids in our food, but to have two kinds, omega-3 and omega-6.  These are beneficial to our health, only when they are present in the ratio of 1:5 or lower.  If this ratio is achieved, these fatty acids are able to protect us from arteriosclerosis, thrombosis and they may even reduce cholesterol levels.  To put it simply, this ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is important to prevent our blood from clotting.

Nowadays, animal products such as beef, milk and eggs, are mostly produced intensively with grain.  But grain, as well as sun flower seeds and many others, contains predominately Omega-6 fatty acids.  At present we find ratios of 1:10 to 1:20 of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids in human consumption im industrialised countries.  This indicates an excessive level of Omega-6 acids in our food.  In beef from cattle reared intensively in US feed-lots, ratios 1:14 have found, arising from the high intake of Omega-6 fatty acids in their cattle feeds.

Grass contains 45% to 50% of Omega-3 fatty acids, the highest amount compared to all other cattle feeds.  Scientists were able to prove two important facts.  Firstly, that beef from cattle reared on grass contains less saturated fatty acids, and secondly that the ratio of the unsaturated omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is reduced to about 1:3.  Therefore grass-fed beef is an obvious choice for a healthy diet, being capable of providing the health benefits mentioned above.

Grass-fed beef also contains a fatty acid, which ruminants, in particular, produce in their complicated digestive system, it is known as “Conjungated Linoleic Acid” or CLA for short.  In recent research, this CLA has been discovered to have anti-carcinogenic properties; it can also provide protection from diabetes and arteriosclerosis, help to reduce obesity, and boost the immune system.

The British native beef breeds have retained their ability to thrive on grass and preserved grass, without supplementary feeding concentrates.  There is still this wonderful variety, from different regions of Britain, where the characteristics of these native breeds have developed over centuries.  This is unique in the world, and we are lucky, that most of these native breeds have survived against all odds, thanks to the dedication of many British farmers, who never lost faith in the potential of their cattle.  With so much current uncertainly in farming these breeds may well play a major role again in the future.  This will not only be for the benefit of environment, but also to present customers with a healthy alternative to intensively produced meat.

When we moved to Scotland, we knew we would be living next to real cattle enthusiasts and kindred spirits.  The Landers family on Bargaly Farm has built up a considerable herd of Beef Shorthorns over the past 10 years. When they started their herd. The numbers of Shorthorns in Britain were at their lowest.  The Landers have contributed greatly to the survival and renaissance of this native breed.  Today you are able to see Shorthorns grazing the rough hills on both banks of Palnure Burn. “Cairnsmore Beef Shorthorns” have made their mark in the cattle world, due to our friends’ skills as breeders & exhibitors.  They are renowned for their quality and hardiness and are very much in demand not only in Scotland, but also in England and Northern Ireland.  Part of the Shorthorn herd regularly came over the burn to graze our fields at Dallash.

Then last year our neighbours decided to start a second herd of native cattle as a sideline.  At the Galloway Autumn Sales they bought a Belted Galloway cow with a calf at foot and an in-calf heifer.  In Spring 2006 more Belties have joined the little herd.  At present three cows with calves and a very good bull is grazing on Dallash.  The yearling heifers are running with the Shorthorn heifers on Bargaly Farm.  We could not have been more pleased with our friends’ choice of breed and we so enjoy looking after the Belties.  They are ideally suited for area of rough grazing, exactly like the Black Galloways we used to have in Germany.

Dallash is surrounded mainly by coniferous forests, so the farm provides important open ground for a variety of wildlife.  It only comprises about 10 hectares of land, but with very interesting features: we have herb rich grassland, wetland with burns running through, native woodland, scrub small stands of trees and single trees, and an area of very rough grazing.  The Belties have already visibly improved the grassland over the last 12 months.  Because of the very light grazing plants are able to flower and seed, and the vegetation is much more diverse that it was before.  In the wetland we will have to clean the burn, and then the Belties will be able to control the rushes.

Also, the Belties have made the area more attractive for walkers and bikers, who come to Galloway Forest Park for their holidays.  A forestry road runs alongside our fields, and many visitors stop to enjoy the view.  If I am around, I tell them about the Beltie breed and its importance for conservation land.  They are able to see, that the ‘belt’ is as perfect camouflage, when these cattle are grazing among trees.  It is amazing how calm and easy to handle Galloway cattle can be, if they have got used to people.  To some visitors I hand over my brush and teach them to give the Belties a good back scratch.

You will be wondering what kind of beef we are storing in our deepfreeze? Beef from native breeds is very difficult to find in this part of Britain, but with a bit of luck we have now got a good supply of genuine Galloway beef!  It is very tasty, much tastier in my opinion then grain produced beef can be but then all beef from native breeds is tasty, because these cattle normally feed on a great variety of grasses and herbs, therefore the exceptional taste is only to be expected.