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What are those Oreo cows doing on Harding Hill?

Posted 5/2/2016 3:21pm by The Webb Family.

There has been much anticipation on the farm in the past weeks. We have been busy keeping pens clean and preparing for our ‘new to us’ Belted Galloway cows to begin calving. Tyler and I have been considering beef cattle breeds over the last year or so… debating about which breed would do well with our management style. Until now, Harding Hill Farm has always purchased calves and raised them on a grass-based diet to maturity.

In February, we made contact with a breeder in the ‘north country’ or otherwise known as northern New Hampshire. Otokahe Farm has been raising and breeding Belted Galloway cattle for many years (and making beef jerky, yum!). Kris and Bert were looking to downsize their breeding herd slightly. We made the visit to their farm, just down the road from Santa’s Village, and immediately knew these cattle had the right attributes to fit in at Harding Hill Farm. We purchased four pregnant cows due to calve in starting in April/May. The cows moved south to Sunapee shortly thereafter.

 

One of the better parts of this adventure was the timing. Tyler’s parents, Van and Robin were on a ski trip when the cows arrived. We got the cows settled, and upon Van and Robin’s return, there were 4 large cows resembling oreos hanging out in the barnyard. It was quite the surprise!

We have spent a few months acclimating them, and unfortunately fighting the spring mud in our barnyard! Things have dried up some, though I write this as it is pouring rain outside. Fortunately there is plenty of dry loafing areas under the barn. We highly anticipate the greening up of pastures as we await the proper timing and level of grass growth to turn them out on pastures for the season. Meanwhile the cows are happily eating stored fermented grass (haylage) and dry hay.

 

Why Belted Galloway or as we call them ‘Belties’? There are MANY reasons. We wanted to create a niche breed of beef cattle for our farm as we continue to develop our grass fed beef business. Tyler and I always admired the breed… who doesn’t love cows that have a white belt resembling an oreo? Also, Robin has mentioned wanting them on the farm for many years. More importantly, there are many positive features in addition to their looks! This breed was developed in Scotland in the rugged hills where hardiness was a trait necessary for survival. Being a New Hampshire farm on a windy, exposed hill sitting on ledge, this sounds familiar. They are naturally polled (no horns), which we preferred because de-horning calves is a nasty (and often necessary) job for both farmer and calf. They have a double coat of hair that provides a great deal of winter warmth, while they shed that extra layer in the summer. Because of their coat, they lack the back fat of other beef breeds. Research has shown that grass fed, beltie beef has less total calories, fat, and cholesterol than conventionally raised beef and grain fed belties. Their heritage allows them to efficiently convert marginal pasture lands into delicious, lean beef. Yum!

 

Now… more about those cute looking cows. The look of the Belted Galloways, black with a white belt, was selected through many generations… however Galloway cattle originally came in numerous colors and patterns. Now the breed colors are Black, Dun (several shades of brown), Red, and Silver. You can still get a seemingly unexpected color combination, but nearly always with a belt. The answer lies in their genetic makeup. When breeding a bull and cow, two sets of genes interact to create the genotype. The actual appearance is known as the phenotype. Belties are unusual in that Dun is the dominant color, not black like in most animals. While an animal may have a Dun color, like our cow April, she may also be a carrier for a black or red gene. This carrier gene can lead to several shades of Dun… or with the correct bull, the birth of a black, red, or silver (two dun genes) calf.

 

Interestingly enough, it turns out that April, our one Dun cow, must have been a black carrier. She gave birth to a very black calf with a white belt just last night… quite a surprise and a bit difficult to match them together! It will keep things interesting. In the meantime, we continue to await our next arrival with one calf on the ground and three to go!

Stay tuned to more adorable pictures and stories.  We can certainly thank our friends Kris and Bert at Otokahe Farm for getting us hooked on these great cattle.