Changing breeding priorities to adapt to an uncertain economic climate, husband and wife team David and Rosemarie Cornthwaite have decided to concentrate on native Galloway cattle since dispersing their Limousin herd in October, 2019.

The couple have farmed at Balgray Hill, near Lockerbie, for 29 years, and after the opportunity arose to rent additional hill ground in 2005, they decided to look for a breed that would not only survive in these fairly harsh surroundings, but also thrive.

"Originally, we ran Limousin cross cattle on the hillier ground, but their calves did not thrive as we were expecting, and we did suffer some abortion in the cows, due to the presence of ticks. We looked at various native breeds and decided the Galloway suited our requirements," commented David.

"The Galloway breed has the ability to graze rough, poorer quality grass and still put flesh on,” said David. “They are great, easy-calving mothers with good longevity and a quiet temperament."

The Galloway herd was established in 2009 with the purchase of 14 foundation females over the next couple of years. These cattle were sourced from herds including Blackcraig, Over Barskeoch, Penninghame, Barlaes and Gall-Way herds.

Following the sale of the pedigree Limousins, the couple also purchased bulling heifers privately from the Ben Lomond and Ballavair herds.

"We want to breed the more modern type of Galloway, with a larger framed carcase to meet the demands of the commercial market as well as the attributes that are needed for producing an all-round good breeding animal," David said.

"When buying a female, I’m looking for length and width, as well as good legs, breed characteristics and temperament.

"The Limousin lacked the ability to forage productively on the very rough ground and since the introduction of the Galloways, the hill ground has improved significantly with grass growing through greener and fresher. This has resulted in significantly reduced feed costs compared with the continental cattle," he stated.

"We run the Galloways on the higher ground during the summer. They are either out-wintered there or on our arable stubble, their diet being supplemented with big bale silage only," said David.

"We primarily sold the Limousins to reduce the workload and due to the Galloways being able to be out-wintered, and calve outside, we find the herd easier to manage which allows us to concentrate on other aspects of the farm," David stated.

The Galloways calve in April and May with a fifth of the herd calving in autumn. The spring-born calves are weaned around New Year and spend the rest of their first winter indoors.

As well as breeding pedigree Galloways, Galloway bulls are used on some Limousin and Simmental cross heifers to calve at two-years-old.

"I find that crossing the Galloway over Limousin or Simmental females improves the ease of calving for heifers, allowing us to calf them at two-years of age," David said.

"I find that they produced a small, vigorous calf that is quick to get to its feet and suckle. The calves grow into long, deep bodied cattle with amazing weight gain. Many have been retained for breeding cattle – all of which have inherited the Galloway foraging ability and hardiness with Simmental and Limousin growth rates," he stated.

David and Rosemarie have already made their mark in the Galloway world too, breeding bulls and females that top sales and win championships.

One bull that has stamped his mark on the herd is Ballavair Black Magic, bred by John Teare, in the Isle of Man.

"Black Magic is a bull that has bred good, shapey cattle with plenty of size. He has produced some of our best bulls to date," said David.

His progeny includes Louis of Balgray, which jointly topped the 2017 Castle Douglas sale at 5000gns, selling to HH Kraft, Ottrau, Germany, and Maximillian of Balgray, which sold at the same venue the following year for 4000gns.

David and Rosemarie have also found success in Troloss Impeccable, a bull bought for 9200gns from Troloss Farms, Elvanfoot, Biggar, in 2015, in a two-way split with the McClymonts, from Kirkstead, Yarrow.

David showed Impeccable at the Royal Highland Show, where he scooped the male championship. One of his sons went to stand junior male champion at the Royal Highland Show in 2018, and went on to sell privately to Blackcraig for £7000 at 15-months-old.

"Our last Black Magic son – Ozzy of Balgray – and five sons of Impeccable are bound for the Castle Douglas sale on February 14.

One of the Impeccable sons – Octavious of Balgray – was shown six times in 2019 and came away with five firsts and a second. He was male champion at Wigtown Show and breed champion and reserve inter-breed at Langholm.

"We have two exceptionally good breeding cows, one being Barleys Grace, the mother of Maximillian of Balgray and Natalie of Balgray – our current show heifer," said David.

"The other is Penninghame Queen, which has bred some of our best bulls and females, including the 5000gns bull, Louis of Balgray, and this year's show bull, Octavious."

Whilst the Cornthwaites are selling some breeding bulls, the majority of their male calves are sold as store bullocks to Jock Rome, for sale in the Kilnford Farm SHOP.

"Galloways might not grade as well as Limousins, but their reduced input costs and ease of management make up for that. They cost less to rear and finish and their end weight is comparable to the Continentals, in a similar time-frame.

"They sell really well and we tend to find that there is more demand than we can supply."

David’s culling system also ensures that only the best of the best is retained as herd replacements. "Our culling system is fairly simple – anything that is not performing or has health issues, goes.

"There’s a place for all breeds of cattle, but on a farm like this with a large acreage of under-utilised upland ground the Galloway suits us well. We find that they leave as good a margin as the continentals but achieve this from far poorer grazing and substantially lower input costs.

"The future looks good for the breed as farms are becoming more extensive with less available labour. The focus has shifted to climate change and the environmental impact of beef cattle, and because of this I think native breeds are seeing a resurgence in popularity," David concluded.

David and Rosemarie farm 2250 acres, rising from 950ft above sea level.

Farm is rented under Balgray Estate.

Business relies on 90 pedigree Galloway cows, and a commercial herd of 390 cows, comprising Limousin/Friesians, three-quarter Limousins and Limousin cross Simmental cattle.

Sheep – 1650 ewes comprised of Cheviots, Scotch Blackface, Texel crosses and Cheviot Mules. Lambing in April and selling lambs finished as well as hoggs with lambs at foot, through Lockerbie Mart. Some hoggs are sold with lambs at foot in May.

Cropping – 20 acres of maize, 90 acres of spring barley, with the remainder grass.

Heifers mainly calving at two-years of age.

Three full-time men employed – Tom McGregor, Jason McKinnel and James Isherwood.

Own 90 Boer goats for meat production, selling the majority as store to Julie Cummings, at Elchies, Speyside and breeding females sold privately.