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Love For Longhorns | Summer 2011 Out Here Magazine

Jim Hix loves his Texas Longhorns for their taste, healthy meat, hardiness, temperament, and good looks.

Wild Texas rangelands produced hardy, healthy beef

By Patty Fuller
Photography by Phil Schermeister

Jim Hix recognizes that his Texas Longhorns — a symbol of the Lonestar State — look a little out of place on the West Coast.

In a region where Herefords and Angus herds have dominated, with some operations going back for generations, you'd be hard-pressed to find other Longhorns — known for their expansive horns and often speckled markings — for many miles.

"Just look at them. I don't think there is a prettier cow," the gregarious man says as he stands among part of his J-Bar-H Ranch herd, on 1,200 rolling acres in Copperopolis, in California's Calaveras County, a region of the Sierra Nevada foothills made famous by Mark Twain's The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.

Neither Hix, 62, nor his herd, however, are in keeping with tradition. He's a relative newcomer to cattle ranching, acquiring his first Longhorns in 2006.

But this greenhorn among Longhorn ranchers has embraced this docile, intelligent breed and is a pro at championing it.

"It's the healthiest meat you can eat," he says. Longhorn meat is indeed lower in fat and in cholesterol than many other kinds of meat, including chicken, a report from Texas A&M University confirms.

That's because Longhorns are genetically leaner from more than a century of surviving on desolate Texas rangelands.

Besides its lean meat, this breed offers other advantages, says the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America.

The hardy Longhorns have longevity, breeding well into their teens and producing more calves; their natural immunity provides disease and parasite resistance; and they thrive in climates from the hot, damp coastal regions to the harsh winters of Canada.

Marketing Longhorn for the quality of its beef, especially on the West Coast, initially was a challenge, Hix says, but he now sells his grass-fed beef to a local health-food store and several nearby specialty restaurants. He and an equally entrepreneurial brother also plan to produce and market Longhorn sausage, hot dogs, and jerky.

His confidence in how this beef will only grow in popularity is on target, says Darol Dickinson, head of the Ohio-based Dickinson Cattle Co., one of the country's largest producers of Texas Longhorns. One of its prize bulls sired one of Hix's bulls.

In the Longhorn business since 1967, Dickinson is well-studied on both his cattle and the beef industry in general. And there's more to the growing interest in Longhorns than their looks and gentle dispositions, he says. Foremost is the fact that they don't need grain as part of their feed or for finishing as some other meat-producing animals do, he says.

"We are going to enter a new era in the cattle industry, a grain-less era," Dickinson explains. "Texas Longhorn cows can eat brush, briar, totally non-human-consumable foods, and produce human-consumable food. The future is in grass-fed animals."

A longtime writer and editor, Patty Fuller is also a team member in the Sonora, CA, TSC store where Jim Hix found the fencing he needed for his Longhorns.