Hardy Belties prove their worth on Loch Lomond hillside

The Maxwell’s manage over 5000 acres of land which they lease off the National Trust and run 1000 Blackface ewes and more than 30 black Galloway cows plus followers, alongside a growing Beltie herd of 20 cows plus followers. The farm is stunningly situated on Ben Lomond and Beinn Uird, making it a hot spot for tourists who regularly roam their land, passing through the grazing cattle. Both Galloway herds are managed on the two separate hillsides which stretch to 3000 feet.

Duncan and Vivien explained why they decided to expand into Belties in the first place: “The Belties are the only other breed as hardy as the Black Galloways which we were confident would be able to make the most of the land we graze here. There is no difference in management, which makes it easy and they are excellent foragers, with a digestive system which works really well with the rough ground, converting it into high quality beef.

“One of the main benefits which we have found with the Galloways is that they are excellent mothers, easy calvers and brilliant milkers, which means when we are busy with lambing in the spring, we can leave them to it.

“There is the added bonus that the Belties have the distinctive white belt around their middle which makes them easier to find when the winter nights settle in and the mists descend on the hillside,” they joked.

Duncan and Vivien look after their extensive operation themselves, having employed a shepherd in the past. Duncan’s father John and their son, David, are a great help as well, when they are not busy lambing their own flock and looking after Simmental cattle at Jaw Farm, Fintry.

The cattle are grazed on the hillside for the majority of the year but are brought down off the hill in winter and are fed ad lib silage to see them through the worst of the winter.

Their location also means a high rainfall, which can make day to day activities increasingly tasking: “We have around 120 inches of rainfall a year, which can make it difficult to keep the beasts clean and makes finding a suitable area of ground that’s dry enough for feeding increasingly difficult. The ground is so steep that we can’t move feed around on trailers like you could do on flatter land.”

The Maxwell’s have made the decision this year to winter some of their cattle off the high ground at another farm, to see what difference it might make to their growth during the winter months.

Currently, they keep their bullocks until they are 17-months-old and sell them on to Jock Rome, who owns Kilnford Farm Shop, and he takes them on for a further year before slaughter. They normally sell around 16 bullocks a year and farm shop manager, Calum McGinley, said that the Belties have been a positive addition to the shop.

“The Belties are finished at a good strong weight, normally around 600kg which is not much shy of the blacks which we normally finish to around 650kg,” he said.

The Maxwells’ stock have been well sought after, too. They sold their first ever Belted bull, Lomond Tonka Truck, in 2012 for £3800gns, privately to breeders in Cumbria, but it wasn’t until 2014 when they made their first mark in the sale ring with Lomond Dalwhinnie, the son of their herd matron, Laggish Kelly, which went on to be reserve champion at Castle Douglas and sell for the second top price 6200gns.

That year, they invested 10,500gns in the top priced bull, Speddoch Rocky, which has since gone on to breed them excellent females and the last two champions at the sales – Lomond Bunnahabhain, which made 5800gns in 2017 and last year’s champion and top priced animal, Lomond Tamnavulin, which went for 6000gns.

Duncan said: “We have been trying to breed bigger, more commercial types but still retain character and confirmation. Buying Rocky in 2014 was a great move – his size has bred us good animals and he’s made his money back for us.” While Speddoch Rocky is the main stock bull for the herd, his daughters are now being served by a home-bred stock bull, Lomond 23 Alpha, which was bought as an embryo and kept on ice for 23 years (inspiring his name) before being put into a surrogate black Galloway dam in 2014.

“It is fascinating to see the difference in our two stock bulls,” Duncan said. “23 Alpha’s father, Firth King Henry, was born in 1970, which means his son carries much older breeding, with his wide and thick conformation. He has exceptional character and works really well on Rocky’s daughters, who are bigger cows, but maintain the traditional Beltie character.”

Since 2012, the Maxwell’s have run a closed female herd for their Belted Galloways, with the aim of building up the numbers of their breeding cows. The upcoming Castle Douglas sale on Friday, October 25, will be the first time they will have ever sold females.

A total of four Lomond animals will be heading to the sale and all are by Speddoch Rocky. Two young bulls, Whisky Galore and Glayva – the latter a full brother to Lomond Eyebright, which is also for sale as an in-calf heifer. The other heifer, Lomond Dinky, is out of one of their original females, Solway Events, which was the dam of their top priced bull Lomond Auchentoshan, which sold for 8000gns in 2016. Both heifers are in-calf to Lomond 23 Alpha. The Lomond herd are also a member of The Premium Cattle Health Scheme and accredited free of BVD, IBR, Lepto and Johne's risk level 1.

As well as producing high quality cattle from poor quality ground, the Maxwell’s play an important role as custodians of the beautiful Loch Lomond hills: “Three-quarters of our farm is a site of special scientific interest. Through our extensive grazing system, we are preserving vegetation on the summit of Ben Lomond and looking after rare lichens and mosses, plus an abundance of wildlife,” said Duncan.

They also take part in a number of agri-environment schemes which look at controlling sheep grazing numbers and keeping a minimal number of cattle in certain areas of the land.

“Since as far as I can remember we have always had to work hand in glove with the National Trust – it’s in our DNA to preserve and conserve this beautiful part of the Scottish countryside, which draws in thousands of visitors year on year,” concluded Duncan.

Article and photos Courtesy of Scottish Farmer (Claire Taylor) October 2019