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Unless otherwise stated, all photos are by Ron Mosher
UNIQUE LOOK BREED WITH A SCOTTISH HISTORY . . . THE "OREO COOKIE COW"
If you’ve ever driven highway 89 through Hat Creek, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the rare cattle crazing at the Old Honn Homestead - black with a wide belt of white encircling the middle. These strange looking creatures are Belted Galloway cattle - affectionately called ‘Belties’. To many they are nicknamed The Oreo Cooke Cow, or Panda Cow or Highway Patrol Cow - take your pick.
The Intermountain Area has plenty of cattle grazing in meadows along our highways, with familiar Hereford’s, Angus and other breeds. However the Belties of Hat Creek really turn heads.
The Old Honn Beltie Farm in Hat Creek is owned by Paul and Nancy Sallaberry, and managed by Freddy Brixey and his wife Lois. The Sallaberry’s purchased the ranch in 2000 and the Brixey’s have been there since 1997.
The ranch began with just two Belted Galloway’s and currently has 26, all offspring of the original duo. They cattle are raised primarily for their quality marbled beef, which testing has shown to be low in total fat and in saturated fat.
“The Beltie has dark meat in front and back, and white meat in the middle,” Brixey joked, “It really is wonderful beef though,” he noted in a serious vein.
When the Old Honn Farm started raising Belties, “We began with two calves,” stated Brixey, “and our current herd is from the original two - with a lot of bad luck along the way with disease and broken bones.” But the herd is growing and generating revenue from the beef provided.
The Old Honn Beltie Farm is a member of the Western Belted Galloway Association as one of 13 California Farms along with others from Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Very few, if any, of the Beltie Farms sells beef through your local grocery store. According to Brixey, the beef is sold privately by owners. This is the case with the Old Honn Beltie Farm, who has contracted with a slaughter house and sells the beef privately.
“They have their own customers who regularly purchase the Beltie beef,” he related.
Belted Galloway cattle are currently listed with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy as a “recovering” breed, which means there are fewer than 2,500 annual registrations in the United States and a global population of less than 10,000. To put how rare this breed is, consider than in 2014 Shasta county alone had a count of 23,800 head of cattle - more than double the worldwide population of Belted Galloway’s.
Members of the Western Beltie group frequently trade bulls, and the current bull at Old Honn is on loan from a farm in Nevada.
Beltie calves at birth normally weigh between 40 and 60 pounds, and their black coloring is tinged with brown as youngsters, “which turns completely black as they get older,” said Brixey. The cattle also have longer curly hair, which gets shorter and smoother as they age. An adult bull will weigh from 1,700 pounds to 2,300 pounds while cows weigh from 1,000 pounds to 1,500 pounds. Because this is a beef breed, cut ability is important to the breeder, and dressed weights are generally better than 60 percent of live weight.
Brixey noted that the breed is very docile, curious and friendly, “and they take care of one another.” Being of quiet temperament, they still maintain a strong maternal instinct and will protect a calf against perceived threats. On an outing over the weekend, the Old Honn Belties seemed very curious as to what the camera was, coming up to get an up-close-and-personal investigation.
Originating in the southwestern portion of Scotland, the Beltie is a hardy animal, used to colder weather and able to sustain themselves on “less than perfect grazing areas.” According to experts, they do well in the northern area’s of the US and Canada, where the climate is colder. They are well-suited for rough grazing land and will utilize coarse grasses other breeds would shun - according to one national article on the breed.
The heartiness of the breed came into play last fall, when the Eiler Fire came literally within feet of the Brixey home and barns - destroying a cabin, trailer and barn on the ranch as well as neighboring houses, but sparing the Old Honn Homestead for the most part.
There are several breeds of ‘Oreo cookie cows’ including some seen in Big Valley recently - but with brown and white coloring, indicative of the Dutch Belted cattle rather than Belted Galloway and its dis-tinctive black and white coloring.
The Old Honn Beltie Farm also has a pair of unorthodox Belties - after a cross with Hereford’s. These cows have white faces and are stockier than the purebred Belted Galloways. A true Belted Galloway has absolutely no white except for the wide belt around the middle.
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