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Main Content

Living Legend | Winter 2015 Out Here Magazine

By Jeannette Beranger

Photography courtesy of The Livestock Conservancy

Rare breeds often are largely unknown to the general public — but the Texas Longhorn is not one of them.

These cattle are a familiar part of American culture; indeed, they still elicit visions of a wild West where only the toughest survived.

Once numbering in the millions, today they are critically endangered with a little more than 1,000 traditional Texas Longhorns surviving today. The story of their decline is a great reminder of how important it is to be diligent in conservation as even iconic breeds such as the Longhorn can easily slip toward extinction.

The first thing to know about the Texas Longhorn is that there are two populations of cattle that identify with this name, both sporting long horns. The traditional Texas Longhorn is the original breed that was created from a foundation of Spanish cattle that first arrived in the Americas nearly 500 years ago. For centuries they were shaped by the environment of the southwest making them superbly adapted to thrive in that very challenging environment.

The second group of cattle is known as the modern Texas Longhorn. They are the result of traditional Longhorns being crossed with other big horned cattle, such as Watusi or English Longhorn to increase the width and length of their horns.

This crossbred population is no longer the old Spanish breed, but it is immensely popular due to the remarkable sets of horns that have been created.

Unfortunately, as the crossbred variety flourished, traditional Longhorns have greatly diminished. This is why they have become a conservation priority for the Livestock Conservancy and are now considered critically endangered.

Though there are several breed registries for the Texas Longhorn, only two focus solely on the genetically pure old-type Longhorns: the Cattleman’s Texas Longhorn Registry and its conservation arm, the Cattleman’s Texas Longhorn Conservancy.

Through the efforts of these organizations, the stories of many longtime breeders have been preserved and recorded on their websites. There you can listen to Fayette Yates who valued the Longhorn’s ability to eat less feed but a wider variety of forage that other cattle breeds are not equipped to eat.

He experienced how they are capable of standing the heat and cold better than others and when the vigorous calves hit the ground, they are ready to jump up to nurse or to run from a coyote. “They may be small but (they’re) very strong from the moment they are born,” he said.

Lawrence Wallace, another longtime breeder, supported the claim by recalling the devastating seven-year drought in the 1950s.

“After four years into the drought, it was only the historic-type Texas Longhorns that were still having calves and earning their keep for farmers caught in those rough times,” he said.

Texas Longhorns are the ultimate survivors and in times of climate challenges, they are an ideal and sustainable pick for grass- and forage-based production.