Texas Longhorn cattle and their ancestors have been a part of Texas life since the Spanish missionaries began settling the area when they first arrived there in the 1700s -1800s. These early settlers brought with them tough and resistant cattle originally from southwestern Spain – cattle that had been raised on open range since the Middle Ages – that were useful as oxen, and for their hides, meat, and milk.
In the 1830s, political control of Texas switched to the Europeans, and during the Civil War cattle management essentially ceased leaving the Spanish cattle to run totally free. Escaped European breeds, including British Shorthorns, mated with these now wild Spanish cattle and the hardy, self-reliant, elusive Texas Longhorn was the result – the first North American breed and the only one to evolve without human involvement.
After the Civil War, vast herds of Texas Longhorns became the source of wealth and recovery for returning Texan veterans, and herds of cattle were driven north to satisfy the demand for beef that came with industrialization and a growing nation. These were the famous trail drives to “cow towns” like Abilene, KS that made the American cowboy an integral part of American history.
In the 1900s, “improved” British, European, and Indian cattle breeds were brought into the region to boost beef production, and the Texas Longhorn declined in popularity. The importation of these new breeds has nearly caused the extinction of many of today’s heritage breeds. Fortunately, Longhorns have always been a part of Texan identity, and some ranchers have always kept Longhorn herds. In the 1960s, this effort was organized and expanded, but the name “Longhorn” drove selection so much that purity became diluted. Selection favored horn size and growth at the expense of other traits including breed purity.
In 1927, the US Congress established a national herd at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Cache, OK. These Longhorns and their descendants at the Fort Robinson State Park in Crawford, NE exist today as pure, unmixed stock. In addition,as a reaction to the perilous situation facing the traditional breed, a few breeders organized the Cattlemen’s Texas Longhorn Registry and began a quest for the old, traditional, pure Texas Longhorn cattle.
The traditional, purely-Iberian (Spanish) Texas Longhorn shares traits and appearances with many Criollo breeds from throughout the Americas that descend from the same roots. The cattle are rangy, and cows and steers have long, twisting, spreading (sometimes lyre-shaped) horns. They are valued for their reproductive ability (cows routinely calve at 11-month intervals if given the chance) and longevity (cows in their late teens are not unusual).
Colors vary, with attractively speckled hides occurring as often as solid colors. The breed’s origin in southern Spanish makes their genetic relationship to other British, European, and Indian breeds in North America distant, so crossbreeding with these breeds results in great hybrid vigor in the offspring. Often, credit for this vigor has been given only to the “improved” breeds, while, unfortunately, heritage breeds like the Texas Longhorn are seen as a relic of older times. The Texas Longhorn’s combination of no-nonsense traits, however, can work to its advantage for sustainable beef production.
They can thrive in areas inhospitable to other breeds as they can live on weeds, cactus, and brush far from water, and handle both hot tropical weather and subzero winters. They can be both enjoyable and profitable as they are hardy, calve easily, are long-lived, and resist disease and parasites. The are no longer a wild breed but gentle and intelligent, although they would do better with new stewards who have experience with long-horned breed experience.
Learn more about the Cattlemen’s Texas Longhorn Registry (article courtesy of Debbie Adams).
Did you know:
The Conservation Priority List is organized historically. Breeds originating in North America are listed first, followed by those imported before 1900 and those that came
to our shores later. Many of these breeds were founded in the United States. That means we have a special responsibility for their conservation. You can invest in living history for as little as $4 per month. Click here to become a Conservation Champion today!