Texas Longhorn Beef – A History

“Someone has said that civilization follows the plow. West of the Missouri. the plow followed the cowboy, and the cowboy followed a Longhorn from Texas ”
…J. Frank Dobie

The Texas Longhorn has followed a long trail to the 1990s. Its ancestors came from the shores of Spain, arriving with Columbus in 1493 at Santa Domingo. In 1521, Gregorio de Villalobos brought the first cattle from Santa Domingo to Mexico. Explorers, settlers and expeditions to establish missions then brought cattle into Texas. These cattle, mingling with cattle lost by eastern settlers, propagated as they escaped, were scattered by Indians, or abandoned. Left on their own without benefit of man, these animals survived by their own ingenuity – developing through the years the traits of hardiness, disease resistance, longevity, fertility and browse utilization.

During the dark days following the Civil War, the Texas Longhorn became the financial salvation of the Southwest. Men returning home found that their only source of income was the thousands of Texas Longhorns wandering freely-worth next to nothing in Texas, but hungered for by the residents in the North. An estimated 10 million Texas cattle were trailed to northern markets between 1866 and 1895 bringing in the staggering sum of $200,000,000.

However, in the late 1800s, the hardy Texas Longhorn met with an enemy his natural instincts couldn’t fight-the fencing of the open ranges and the importation of other beef breeds. The number of Texas Longhorns dwindled until the true Texas Longhorn approached extinction. As national concern grew, the U.S. government appropriated $3,000 in 1927 to acquire a herd of the old-time cattle. After a 5,000 mile trip through South Texas and Old Mexico, Forest Service employees located 23 head which became the foundation stock for the federal herd at the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Cache, Oklahoma.

Through the years, interest in the Texas Longhorns increased, and in 1964, concerned breeders organized the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America, now headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas. Today through the efforts of those breeders, nearly 250,000 head of Texas Longhorn cattle have been registered.

Although recognized for its rich history and long horns, which average four feet and sometimes more from tip to tip, the Texas Longhorn is making a major contribution to today’s beef industry. The same characteristics that the Texas Longhorn developed through the years of neglect are in demand by the cattleman of the twentieth century-calving ease, fertility, disease resistance, and longevity.

It is not unusual for Texas Longhorn cows to calve well into their teens, and more calves mean more dollars to today’s cowman. The breed is adaptable to any climate, doing as well in the hot steamy climate of the Florida coast to the cold winters of the northern United States and Canada. It also forages on minimum pasture and works extremely well in crossbreeding programs.

Despite the movie directors’ love of good stampedes, the Texas Longhorn is a very docile bovine and easy to work with as witnessed by the number of men and/ or women who work the cattle on foot and by the number of youngsters who show these longhorned cattle in the show ring.

Another reason the Texas Longhorn genetics are in demand in today’s beef market is the lean beef they provide. With the public’s concern today about fat, it is a relief to know that there is a breed of cattle which can provide naturally lean beef. Research from Texas A&M University has shown that Texas longhorn steaks have about 30% less muscle fat and 15% less saturated fat than steaks from a British beef breed. However, the marbling, quality grade and flavor are similar. Shouldn’t you ask for Longhorn Lean the next time you’re in a restaurant?

Truly, the Texas Longhorn has come from “Extinction to Distinction”.

Courtesy – The Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America, The Oldest And Largest Texas Longhorn Registry, Established 1964