Christopher Columbus isn’t usually associated with the U.S. cattle industry, but maybe he should get some consideration. Back in 1493 he brought Spanish cattle to this part of the world and their descendents gradually made their way north into what is now Texas where the Longhorn cattle thrived and expanded their range.
Now those same Longhorn cattle have made their way as far north as Wisconsin and beyond and are enjoying a growing presence here. That was evident at this year’s Farm Technology Days event in Marathon county where some representative animals from America’s oldest beef breed were prominently on display in the Beef tent.
Longhorns now number “a few thousand head in the state”, according to Keith Alft of Longhorn Acres near Tigerton, who was helping spread the word about Longhorns at the show. He said it was hard to give an exact number because about 50 state producers belong to the Great Northern Texas Longhorn Association and “there are at least that many more in the state who raise Longhorns but aren’t members of the Association, but we’re working on signing them up”, Alft added.
The reasons for the increasing popularity of Longhorns in the state, according to Alft, are many. “They’re easy to raise, have wonderful temperament, are easy calvers and the cows make great mothers,” he pointed out. In fact, many of the largest cattle ranches in the country use Longhorn bulls as a cross on their cows because of their calving ease. Ranchers say those calves are a little smaller than those from other crosses but the calves are more hardy and survive in all types of environment. In fact, Alft told us, Longhorns have adapted to northern climates very nicely and in winter they might need a windbreak but a barn or other shelter isn’t usually necessary for them to get through.”
The quality of the meat is also one of the appeals for Longhorn producers. Alft says he markets the meat from his 80 head operation to health food stores where his customers tell him, “they like Longhorn beef because it’s as lean or leaner that bison and it has more flavor.” He says that’s how most state producers market their product since taking them through the sale barns usually means getting docked on price because of the horns. Alft said instead producers should be able to make money, not only on the specialty meat but also on the horns and skulls as well as on the hides which come in a variety of color patterns that are in demand from the upholstery industry and other end users.
Longhorns are also gaining in popularity around the state because they are basically grass fed with little additional feeds needed. Alft says he finishes his animals to market weight in 20 to 24 months and they yield about 60 to 65%.
Other breeders we talked to at Farm Technology Days highlighted not only the advantages of the lean meat, the hardiness of the animals, the calving ease and other management issues, but also the quiet and docile temperament of the breed. Many use them in parades and animal displays at schools and other community activities and some even ride their Longhorns. Keith Wucherpfennig of Granton had two of his steers at Farm Technology Days. One he has broken to ride and the other is in the training process and should be “ready to ride” soon, he said.
The main focus of the Longhorn breeders at the show was mainly informational and to straighten out some of the myths people have about the breed. One of the most asked questions was, “do only the bulls have horns?” The answer is no. In fact, breed information explains that both bulls and cows have horns, but they are different. Males have horns that tend to be straight with a slight turn at the end while a cow can have a variety of shapes and sizes in her horns. Breeders also explained to visitors that Longhorn cattle are “easier on fences and buildings than most other breeds because of their gentle nature and also because they know how to navigate with their long horns.” Another advantage of the breed is their longevity. Typically a Longhorn will live for 20 years with an occasional cow producing at 25 to 30 years of age.
Even though the Longhorn has a long history in this country of being range cattle, their bloodlines are easily traceable since the 1930s. At that time about seven families consolidated those lines that are now the base of the breed. Their characteristics make them unique from other breeds and because they have such unique and desirable traits, they are one of the most used breeds for cross breeding in the industry.