Grazing with Cattle

We use cattle to graze several of our heathland sites.

Belted Galloways were chosen at the very beginning as the ideal breed choice of cattle.


Introducing the Belted Galloway

Belted Galloway cattle have a proven track record in grazing both heathland and chalk grassland

From the late 1990’s to 2007 Surrey County Council countryside staff and then SWT attempted to use other farmer’s livestock on our reserves. This resulted in some wildlife gains. However there were insurmountable problems with sourcing suitable animals and having them on site at the required times and intensities to produce the desired result, and so after many years of trying to obtain the correct animals SWT made the decision to buy its own livestock in 2007.

This allowed us to take control over exact grazing intensities and timings, as well as choose the correct stock type for our reserves, provide the highest level of animal welfare, choose animals that would coexist with the heavy public use of our reserves and carry out our own emergency call out system.

Legendary Hardiness

Belted Galloways were chosen at the very beginning as the ideal breed choice of cattle. As these animals originate in the lowlands of Scotland this may seem an interesting decision but they have a range of characteristics which make them the best choice.

Belted Galloways are used around the globe to provide grazing on difficult terrain. From Dartmoor to the Australian Outback and from Scotland to the Florida Everglades, Belted Galloways have been there and thrived. The breed has the thickest coat of any domestic cattle. Estimates are over 2000 hairs per square inch. This means that the animal can easily weather the coldest winter without being kept in sheds.

  • As they can lose their thick undercoat in summer, they are also at home in hot climates. Due to the versatility of their coat they do not lay down fat in the same manner as other cattle breeds. This allows them to regulate their temperature even better.
  • The breed has a proven track record in grazing both heathland and chalk grassland.
  • The animals are naturally without horns (polled). This means that they are easier to handle and are less intimidating to members of the public.
  • Despite being predominantly grazers, the breed does eat a greater degree of browse than many other cattle types. The unique markings of the Belted Galloway are believed to have been bred by Scottish farmers to allow the animals to be seen from long distances. This characteristic is of great value on SWT’s reserves both large and small. The markings also seem highly popular with members of the public.
  • From a management point of view the cows are easily trained to follow a bucket of food, respect electric fences and are fantastically easy calvers.

Why Graze with Cattle

Cows have enormously long tongues but no top front teeth! Their standard way of eating long grass is to wrap their tongue around the grass, clamp their tongue to the top of their mouths and rip the grass up. This results in cows leaving the sward longer than other grazing animals and produces a greater mosaic effect with tussocks and longer areas of vegetation left behind, so creating greater variety in the habitat.

Cattle are specially recommended for enhancing colonies of rare chalk and heath species such as Straw Belle moths and orchid populations. Due to their feeding behaviour they do not feed selectively and so do not target flower heads individually - like sheep and ponies. Their bulk also allows them to push into and open up areas of scrub and break up mats of dead vegetation such as bracken litter.

Their weight also allows them to poach areas of ground. Whilst this has to be carefully managed, these bare areas provide nurseries for species that might not otherwise survive. It creates habitat and hunting grounds for a whole range of bare ground, warmth loving species.