Faced with extinction 75 years ago, the Texas Longhorn is not only thriving again but fetching prices in the tens of thousands of dollars from fans of the iconic cattle breed of the Wild West.
FORT WORTH, Texas - Faced with extinction 75 years ago, the Texas Longhorn is not only thriving again but fetching prices in the tens of thousands of dollars from fans of the iconic cattle breed of the Wild West.
The 1,000-pound longhorns number in the hundreds of thousands these days, with many being kept on small pleasure farms by a new breed of cattle enthusiast.
"People are spreading out and they are building 'ranchettes' -- 25 to 50 acre places. They are looking for some cattle for these places and the longhorn fits right in," said Larry Barker, the director of promotions for the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America, based in Fort Worth, Texas.
Barker said the longhorn is a docile animal that can produce offspring more easily and for more years than typical cattle. Prices run from a few hundred dollars per head and cattle with the most prodigious set of horns can fetch upward of $60,000 at auction.
"The longhorn is synonymous with the Texas cowman. They have a history and a romance that no other breed has," Barker said.
The longhorn, known for its wide array of colors and horns that can stretch to over 60 inches on the top of its head or above the grill of a Cadillac, traces its roots to about 500 years ago. The longhorn evolved from wild Spanish cattle brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus.
Today's longhorn rancher is someone like Charlie Foreman of Edgewood, Texas, who started raising the cattle on his 150-acre ranch in 1997.
"Breeding and raising them are just a hobby for me and my wife," Foreman said at the 2004 Fall Horn Showcase in Fort Worth, where longhorns were sold and cattle competed in horn-length competitions.
"You never know what you're going to get when you breed them. You get these different horn shapes, colors, a whole mess of things," Foreman said.
Rocket Science Longhorns
Texas Longhorn Trails, the magazine of the breeders' association, is chock full of ads showing longhorn cows and bulls for sale and breeding for those who want to spin the genetic wheel and see what traits they can add to their herds.
Away from the farm, there is a longhorn herd roaming at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and longhorns chew the grass at the headquarters of computer service company Electronic Data Systems Corp. in the Dallas suburb of Plano. The most famous longhorn in the state is Bevo, the mascot for the University of Texas.
A few big-money longhorn cattlemen have turned to modern science and paid tens of thousands of dollars to clone cattle with championship-sized horns. At the longhorn cattle show, the cloned offspring of champion Feisty Fannie were penned near each other in carbon copy perfection.
This is all a far cry from the mid-1800s when longhorn were treated as a natural resource. They were a part of the land and those with the biggest guns and fastest branding irons put together the biggest herds on the Texas flatlands.
After the Civil War, longhorns numbered in the millions, setting off a boom in the Texas cattle industry for those who could march their cattle north on the great drives to trading posts near the railheads that served the East.
The longhorn was well suited for this kind of trade. It is a hearty animal that can fend and forage for itself, swim rivers and go farther without water than other breeds.
As the cattle industry became more sophisticated and fences were stretched across the plains, other breeds with more fat became the staples of the beef industry. The number of longhorn stood at just a few hundred head in 1927 when the federal government and a few dedicated cattlemen worked to restore the breed.
There is a still a trade in longhorn beef, which is grass fed and has less fat than beef found in the supermarket. A place such as Shudde Ranch, outside of San Antonio, says customers turn to longhorn beef because it is healthier than typical beef, with a more distinct flavor.
"It is a denser nutrition. You get more for your money," said Janelle Shudde, a co-operator of Shudde Ranch.
A pound of 90 percent ground beef sells on the ranch's Web site for $4.50 while a 5-pound sample pack that includes steaks, cutlets and ground beef goes for $48.00.
One cattleman who will not turn his award-winning longhorn Peacemaker into beef any time soon is Jimmy Jones, who was visiting from Alabama.
Peacemaker won its category for the longest horns at the show in Fort Worth and a beaming Jones said raising longhorn is a way of life for him.
"I call it a disease. It is impossible for me not to be consumed by the longhorn," Jones said.