Whitebred Shorthorn and Blue Grey Cattle at the Bloch
| George &
The Whitebred Shorthorn has played an integral part of the
farming system on an upland Dumfriesshire unit for more than
half a century.
It was demand for the Blue Grey, the hardy cross from the
Whitebred Shorthorn bull and the Galloway cow, that led the
Bell family to establish their own pedigree Whitebred Shorthorn
herd in the 1950s.
And now George Bell, his son Ian and wife Fiona remain loyal
to the system which perfectly suits their 2,000-acre hill farm,
The Bloch, near Langholm.
Attempts have been made to find another ideal hill cow, but
no-one has been able to oust the Blue Grey,” said George.
The Blue Grey progeny are sold once a year with females selling
as suckler cows to all corners of the UK and bullocks in demand
by finishers supplying specialist butchers who favour traditional
“We first started breeding the Whitebred Shorthorn in
the 1950s. We moved to The Bloch in 1941 and at the time we
were breeding pure Galloways as the family had done for a long
time,” said George Bell.
“At the time the Blue Grey was becoming more popular
and our hill farm leant itself to that type of animal.
“There used to be a lot more breeders of Blue Greys
with big sales at Haltwhistle and Newcastleton. After a decline
in interest, the breed seems to have weathered the storm and
breeders are coming back to the Whitebred and breeding the
“Some people went out of Blue Greys but have now come
back into them because the other breeds they were using did
not last,” said George Bell.
“The Blue Grey is very long-lived and you may get an
extra five years, and an extra five calves, compared with other
breeds. Beef producers farming in harsh conditions might think
they would get a better return from the bigger, modern cows,
but at the end of the day the Blue Grey lives longer and is
much easier to feed.
“We’ve sold Whitebred bulls to farmers as far
afield as Dartmoor, Derbyshire and Skye and as well as using
them on Galloways, quite a few are crossing them very successfully
with Highland cattle.”
An increasing number of Whitebred bulls are sold privately
off the farm, however, recent leading prices for the herd at
Carlisle sales are 3,000gns and 2,500gns
At the Bloch, which has heavy, wet land, the herd of 100 Galloway
cows along with 10 purebred Whitebreds graze at up to 1,000ft
on unimproved hill land which has rushes and heather. They
would be capable of grazing on land at twice that height.
It is their ability to thrive in these conditions, with little
or no concentrate feed, which is making the hardy Whitebred
and its crossbred progeny increasingly popular again as low
maintenance suckler cows.
Earlier born Blue Grey heifers are sold at the annual Newcastleton
sale at the end of October at six to seven months old while
others are kept on until the following year selling at 16 to
18 months old.
Blue Grey bullocks sold at 18 to 20 months old store through
Longtown and Newcastleton are also in demand from finishers
supplying beef to specialist local butchers.
“The Whitebred and the Blue Grey went through a bad
patch for popularity but now people who have tried other breeds
are coming back to the Newcastleton sale,” said George
“They have compared the economics. As well as the hardiness
of these cattle, they live a lot longer and are easier kept
and are very fertile. The quality of the meat from the Blue-Grey
bullock is what more of these specialist butchers are looking
for,” he added.
Cows begin calving in April after having been housed since
Christmas to save the ground, although the smaller cows cause
less poaching than other breeds.
During housing they receive half a kg of cake a day as well
as silage and straw. The cows are injected with Rotavec to
prevent scour with calf deaths minimal as well as inoculated
The cows calve easily with few assisted births and the calves
are quick to get on their feet and suckle.
The females do not suffer from mastitis nor do they have problems
“Traditional and native breeds are enjoying a come-back
both from a producer and consumer point of view,” said
“With the new Single Farm Payment, producers are wanting
a low maintenance animal and once the Over Thirty Month rule
is lifted it will enable those finishing cattle on extensive
grass fed systems to sell them a little bit more mature,” he
The Bells also run a flock of 1,200 ewes along with hoggs
and 240 replacements, 1,000 being pure South Country Cheviots
with 200 Cheviot mules, which earned the family the Wool Producer
of the Year title in 1998.
Cheviot rams and females are sold across the UK, with a number
going into Wales – rams are sold at Lockerbie and Builth
Wells – to a top price of £6,200.