Everybody loves belted galloways; that’s a truth universally acknowledged. Children coo at belties, and tourists buy postcards of black and white cattle until I begin to worry that any word of criticism will be shouted down and trampled upon by an outraged mob. These beasts have made such a mark in Galloway’s identity that it almost feels disloyal to give them anything but praise, but I’ve begun to move away from that tradition.
I took on this project because I wanted to connect with Galloway. At first I wanted to work with belted galloways because they were an obvious choice, but a chance conversation with a friend in Castle Douglas led me to riggits and I never looked back.
Riggit gallowaysOutsiders are outsiders; a footnote in a long stream of continuity which has placed some beasts above others. There’s no real justification for this, but I’ve lost count of the people who have quietly chuckled at my enthusiasm. When I first started to invest in riggits, I was advised against it. When I tell people that I’m keen on galloways, they light up and say “belties?”, and then I have to toe the ground and explain that it’s riggits that keep me awake at night time. I can see their excitement fading because what’s a riggit and why?
But for all it sometimes feels like riggit galloways are a dead end, I can’t draw my eyes away from them. Riggit genetics are very old, and they don’t survive in many of the modern “improved” types of galloway cattle. Ignore the markings for a moment and realise that these are galloways of the traditional kind; with short legs, blunt-heads and curves in all the old places. My grandfather worked with black galloways for half a century at time when riggit galloways had all but vanished. He would’ve been baffled by my cattle, but he’d have seen more to love in my riggits than he would in many of the tall, boxy blacks which are now being turned out by commercial breeders.
And belted galloways have a finely established breed standard. People fret and panic about the precise nature of their markings. By following rigorous guidelines, it’s almost possible to produce something which breeders regard as “perfect”. Riggits seem to throw this conformity back in your face. There are hardly any rules, and the perfect riggit galloway is in the eye of the beholder. Every one of my cows is unqiue – some are almost white; others almost black. They’re all riggits, but that’s a cover-all term for the mottled middleground which defies conformity. You’d never struggle to tell two riggits apart, and throwing objectivity to the wind, I’ve had beltie calves and riggit calves and there’s no doubt in my mind which I prefer to see. And when the beasts are up and away, there’s something trebly fine about riggits seen from across a mile of open country with a stack of dark clouds piling up behind them.
I can understand why the world is devoted to belted galloways. It makes perfect sense, and I don’t mean to drag them down. But in a system which routinely sneers at riggit galloways, I think it’s fair enough to sing their praises now and then; no better or worse but a breed apart.