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What Makes a Full-Blood Texas Longhorn?

"I DON'T GIVE A DAMN WHAT ANYBODY SAYS, there's less now than there have ever been the real, old-time Texas Spanish-blood Longhorns," says Fayette Yates.

"When the Fayette Yateses, Maudeen Markses, the Lawrence Wallaces of this world start saying that, some one ought to listen," says Don Davis, rancher and president of the Cattlemen's Texas Longhorn Registry. It's hard to know how many full-blood Texas longhorns there are. But one thing is certain, they are diminishing with each new generation as the industry trend to change and "improve" the longhorns continues, with bigger horns, bigger bodies, and more varied colors to meet the latest trends in the show arena.

What, exactly, is so great about these full-blood Texas longhorns? Davis answers:

The naturally evolved genetic traits of Texas longhorns most commonly attributed to the breed, and which separate them from other breeds of cattle are: resistance to disease and parasites, longevity calving ease, fertility, hardiness, early sexual maturity.

Many of the desirable characteristics attributed to full- blood longhorns relate to their functional efficiency, those traits developed by nature relating to reproductive efficiency. No other breed can surpass the Texas longhorn in reproductive efficiency. (Make your own jokes.) It is the single most important trait of the Texas longhorn and differentiates it from the nation's mainstream cattle, whose reproduction rates are actually declining. A Texas longhorn heifer (a female that has never calved, a cow is a female who has calved, a bull is a fully functioning male, and a steer is a male that has been castrated) should conceive at about 15 months of age, have her first calf by age two and continue calving yearly through age 16 and beyond.

Many of these traits are expressed in their physical characteristics. -Cora Oltersdorf

HEAD: A typical longhorn head should be narrow with pronounced length, and a straight profile from poll, the area between the horns, to muzzle. This characteristic is directly related to calving ease. The head should show masculinity or femininity according to sex. Cows should have a trim feminine neck, with smooth rounded shoulders, and an angular shaped body.

EARS: Small to medium, short, round ears, fitted horizontally under the horns. The long hair found in a longhorn's ears helps fend off parasites, along with its long tail with full switch.

What Makes a Full-Blood Texas Longhorn?

BODY: A longhorn's body should be of good length with moderate depth and thickness, angular shaped for heat adaptation, ribs that are moderately sprung (full and rounded body barrel), with a slender head and shoulders for calving ease. Bulls will be thicker and much more heavily muscled than cows, particularly in the neck and shoulders and will exhibit a crest on the neck. Texas longhorns are considered a medium-bodied breed. They will grow to the range they are on. Cattle in the mineral rich, tall grass prairie will tend to be much larger than those found in the desert southwest. A typical cow from the Fort Robinson, Neb. herd can be 1,100 to 1,200 pounds. Cows from the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Cache, Okla., average around 950 to 1000 pounds. South Texas and West Texas longhorns may be from 750 to 900 pounds. Therefore, size is closely related to forage availability and strength (protein and mineral content).

COLOR: Unlike Amigo, historically many of the wild Spanish cattle tended to be of solid or nearly solid hair color with much color variation. Colors said to be the most common among these wild Texas cattle were red, black, brown, dun (tan), or roan (reddish-brown).

LEGS: Texas longhorns may be long-legged compared to some other breeds, and they certainly are not short legged. Legs of adequate length or long legs give the Texas longhorn its ability to travel long distances, up the trail in the trail driving days or to water in the desert Southwest.

HORNS: You're booking at the longest horns on record: more than 9 feet tip to tip. They belong to Amigo Yates, owned by Fayette Yates and who was the 1998 World Champion Steer. A bull's horns should grow laterally from the poll with a slight forward and upward sweep. This is a dominance trait related to fighting with other bulls. The most dominant bulls bred with more of the cows and passed their genes on to the next generation. A cow's horns should be slender at the base, growing laterally from the poll with a turn upward, ending in a lateral twist out. A cow's horn length and shape are related to protecting its flank from predators and protecting its calf (which was usually hiding under its mother).

"Longhorns are said to thrive in country where no other breed can live; subsist on weeds, cactus, and brush; range days away from water; and stay fit and fertile, whether it's living in the scorching, parasite-infested tropics or in the arid, subzero winters of Montana." (from Jeff Mannix's book, Living Legend of the American West, and the Cattlemen's Texas Longhorn Registry brochure)

LITTLE EXTRA SKIN: They possess "clean" underlines without a lot of loose skin to get caught in thorny brush.

Living Legend of the American West
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Resource Index
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