There are two animals we could be talking about… Cattle with long horns, or Longhorn Cattle. the two things are not synonymous. Unhappily, most Longhorns are “wronghorns.” They are not pure Texas Longhorns. And the difference is important.
True and pure Texas Longhorns are profoundly different from the commercial cows (actually European breeds) that are available today. It isn’t just a few minor trait differences we are looking at, but actually the Longhorn is a whole different animal.
The pure Longhorn is a smallish example of cattle. The female rarely tops 800 lbs. The steer or bull may get upwards of 1800 lbs., but it will take him 5-6 years to get that big.
The Longhorn thrives on stuff other cows will not even eat. They will eat weeds, thistles, scrub brush, etc. as well as grass when it is available. The result of these first two traits is that you can keep 3 Longhorns in the same are where you could only keep one commercial cow. The commercial cow is designed (by humans) to live a fairly short life. Finding a 10 year old commercial/European breed cow is very rare. The commercial cow will likely only produce up to 5 or 6 offspring in their short lives. The Longhorn, however, can live very long lives, and it is not unheard of to have a cow still producing a calf (every 10-11 months) well into their 20’s and 30’s. The Longhorn “breeds back” (becomes pregnant again after calving) faster than any other cow. Although it is only a slight exaggeration, the old ranchers used to say that “the Longhorn will calf every 9 months and 15 minutes.”
The Longhorn survived and thrived in the deserts of Texas and Mexico without any aid from, or crossbreeding by, man. The commercial breeds are mutts, concoctions of man bred for purely short term economic reasons.
After hundreds of years living wild in Texas and Mexico, there were literally millions of pure Longhorn cattle free for the taking. These beasts had developed naturally into a creature designed with all of the best survival characteristics. They lived longer, produced more offspring, and never required veterinarians. And there were so many of them that they could easily be rounded up and driven north to feed folk flocking to cities and suburbs. This is what started the “cattle drives” of western fame. The Longhorn saved Texas after the disastrous war between the states, and again the pure Longhorns saved both the Texas and United States beef industry after a massive 7 year drought wiped out the cattle industry in the 1950’s. If hadn’t been for the Longhorn herds kept in Texas, and the survivor genetics they stored, the beef industry might never have recovered.
So how is the meat?
Longhorn meat is higher in “good” fats, lower in “bad” fat, and higher in protein than any other beef. It is naturally one of the most tender examples of beef, even though it is the lowest in saturated fats. I was given a couple of pounds of Longhorn hamburger and it was some of the best hamburger meat I have ever eaten. Pure Longhorn beef has the same health profile as chicken and fish.
Longhorn steers can be made into oxen (and have for centuries) for pulling and work. Longhorns can be ridden and milked.
Longhorns are the only breed where almost 100% of the cow is usable and profitable. Not only is their meat great, but the horns can sell for between $200-$1200 dollars. The hides will often sell for between $400-$700. Online you can by Longhorn pillows, couches and blankets (try to buy an Angus blanket!). The tails are even made into lamps and golf putters! An industrious Longhorn owner can sell the hides and horns for more than a whole commercial breed cow will sell for at market. This doesn’t count the meat at all!
The main points for the homesteader:
1. 3/1 ratio of Lonhorns to a commercial cow in the amount of cows per acre.
2. There is no known case (of which I have either read or heard) of a Longhorn cow having to have a calf “pulled”. Ease of calving is a famous trait of Longhorns, and it is why many, many commercial breeders now have their cows bred to a Longhorn bull for their first calf.
3. Low feed costs and the ability to keep a cow on land that might not be good enough for a commercial cow.
4. Multiple uses of the Longhorn. Milking, riding, pulling, work, etc.
5. Easy sale of all the “parts”.
6. Quality of the meat.
That’s the short story. But I could say more, and will.
Learn more about Pure Texas Longhorn Cattle at the Cattleman’s Texas Longhorn Registry.
Learn more about the history of Pure Texas Longhorn Cattle.