Longhorn Cattle, Did You Know?

Longhorn cattle surround us in Texomaland. We all know the Longhorn played a key role in feeding the U.S., spurring on the cattle drive era to never be seen again, and romanticizing the cowboy in Texas and American Western culture in the 19th century. 

There is a lot more to know about the Longhorn breed of cattle, the modern culture surrounding why people still breed the Longhorn, and where they came from. The Longhorn cattle breed almost went extinct by the 1920s. Longhorns are still bred for beef stock today.

Where Did the Texas Longhorn Come From?

The breed is called the Texas Longhorn, but these bovines came to the Americas from the Canary Islands in Spain in 1543. According to a study from the University of Texas at Austin, the Longhorn genome is traced back to Christopher Columbus’s second voyage to the new world in 1493, the Moor’s Spanish invasion, and the ancient domestication of the aurochs in the Middle East and India.

Aurochs are a large wild Eurasian ox with longhorns that was the ancestor of domestic cattle. The inhabitants of Britain probably exterminated it in the Bronze Age. The last one was killed in Poland in 1627. For years, bovine researchers thought the Longhorn breed was domesticated from a pure European lineage.

Columbus brought the Longhorns over on his ship and landed on the island he named Dominica, or today’s Dominican Republic. From there, the Longhorns ended up in Central America. Spanish settlers and missionaries drove the Longhorn herds north over a few centuries.

The Longhorn genome “taurine” is about 85 percent of its genetic makeup which descended from wild aurochs from the Middle East between 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.  Fifteen percent of the Longhorn genome is “indicine” from aurochs in India. The African Moor’s invasions from the 8th to the 13th centuries took the auroch descendents to Spain. (1)

Feral Longhorns

Eventually the Longhorns went feral and ended up in Texas. The process of natural selection helped the animals to re-evolve ancient survival characteristics that had been bred out of them over the centuries. They were forced to become self-sufficient living in the wild.

Researchers believe that the indicine genome is responsible for the survival traits while the Longhorns were feral because it is much hotter in Africa and India than in Europe. They remained feral or barely managed in Texas until after the Civil War when demand for beef in the U.S. was enormous.

The Texas cowboys started rounding up the Longhorns. A legacy was born. (1)

Why Do We Breed Longhorns Today?

Ranchers still breed Longhorn cattle for beef. But, many ranchers raise and keep them because of their importance to Texas history. Duane and Lonnie Dotson, of Sherwood Shores, and Whitesboro, Texas, bought a Longhorn three years ago, had it butchered, and swear it was the best beef they had eaten so far.

Longhorns are tough. The calves can stand up much sooner after birth than other cattle breeds. They breed up until their teens or 20s, also much longer than other cattle breeds. Some have been bred up to thirty years. Longhorn cows go off and hide to birth their calves in a safe place, and then bring them home after the threat of predation is over.

The Longhorn is categorized as a beef animal, and contains very low fat content. Their meat is lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol than most cattle breeds. Ranchers also crossbreed them with other breeds for their easy calving traits. Ranchers can have more head of Longhorns per acre than other breeds because they consume three times less food. These beautiful bovines continue to represent the Old West and the romance of the Texas cowboy. (2)

Longhorn Cattle

Longhorns Almost Went Extinct

Texans and Okies continue to carry on one of the biggest rivalries, especially during football season. However, the federal government and Oklahoma brought the iconic Texas Longhorn out of danger from extinction.

The Longhorn was closer to extinction than the buffalo was by 1926. They were so rare that zoos wanted to home them. A herd of Longhorns comprised of 20 cows, three bulls, four calves and three steers were shipped to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in 1927, which was then called the Wichita National Forest and Game Preserve.

Most Longhorns today carry the genetics of that herd. In 1930, Texas established a longhorn preserve funded by Texas oilman, Sid Richardson. In a 1952 article in The Cattleman magazine, Sid told Frank J. Dobie that he said at the time, “You gather up the Longhorns to form a state herd; I’ll pay for them.” Before the Civil War, barbed wire fences, and rising human population, an estimated 10 million Longhorns traveled from Texas to the railheads up north. (3)

The Longhorn population peaked in 1890. Several elements crashed together to cause their near extinction. Ranchers began crossbreeding the Longhorns with Angus, Hereford, and Shorthorn breeds to fatten up the stock. Candles were the primary light source at the time, and this crossbreeding supplied the tallow industry to manufacture candles. Longhorns did not produce enough tallow for candles with 80% less renderable tallow than other cattle breeds.

Texas was known as the “Rawhide State” in the late 19th century. Dobie reported on the popular expression of the day, “What a Texan can’t mend with rawhide, ain’t worth mending.” Rawhide was used for making chair seats, horse hobbles, ropes, reins, whips, wheel spokes, repairing rifle stocks, and so much more. The lean Longhorns produced more durable rawhide than other breeds.

After the railroads came to Texas ended the cattle drive era, Longhorns became popular game animals like deer and antelopes. It was said at the time that it was harder to get a shot at a wild Longhorn than other game animals. Hunters wanted to bag Longhorns.

Longhorn Preservation

Six families, who each have their own story, became alarmed at the rate of the Longhorn’s disappearance. They began keeping their Longhorns alive. The federal government became alarmed as well.

The U.S. established the Longhorn herd at the Wichita National Forest and Game Preserve. Sixty years earlier there were 40 million Longhorns in the U.S. By the time the Texas herd was viably established in 1934, Texas cattlemen formed the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America.

The goals of the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America were to bring the Longhorn back from extinction, require registration of the animals, maintain a herd book, and trace their ancestry. The association recorded 2,500 Longhorns in 1934, and today there are over 250,000 Longhorns happily living in the U.S. and Canada. (4)

Today’s cattle market views Longhorns as a gold mine for their lean beef, their disease and parasite resistance, easy calving, and the ability to raise more Longhorns per acre.

Physical Characteristics and Traits of Longhorn Cattle

Starting with the horns: Longhorn horns can span 120 inches tip to tip. Steers, cows, and bulls grow an average of a 70 to 80 inch tip to tip horn range. Horns can grow straight or curve upward.

Longhorns sport a variety of colors from black, brown, red, white, and spotted, or any combination of colors. A Longhorn calf’s colors can change as it grows up. Longhorns can breed into their teens and 20s.

Longhorn cows deliver calves almost 100% without assistance. A Longhorn cow will fiercely protect her young. She produces milk reliably. They are highly disease resistant. On top of all that, the Longhorn is a genteel breed. They frequently have mild dispositions, unless you try to harm a Longhorn calf.

Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America (TLBAA)

The Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America Certificate of Registration lists the name of the Longhorn, a detailed description of coloring, its geneology, its assigned number, date calved, herd number, location, holding brand, names of breeder and owner, and the date of registration.

Ranchers in these states are members of the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America: Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas. Canadian ranchers also participate.

The Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America is a nonprofit organization with more than 3,000 active adult and junior members. Along with our subsidiaries, Texas Longhorn Trails Magazine, Texas Longhorn Breeders of Tomorrow (TLBT), and the Texas Longhorn Breeders of America Foundation (TLBF), the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association provides programs and services for its members and customers, while promoting the Texas Longhorn breed and supporting education, youth, and scientific research.

The TLBAA publishes the Texas Longhorn Trails Magazine which serves as industry leaders in educating the public and marketing the Texas Longhorn for its desirable breed traits, historical importance, and vast array of ownership benefits. You have to be a member to receive the magazine unfortunately, but you can find some interesting Longhorn literary tidbits on their website.

For example, in 2015, then Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared October 1-3, 2015 “Horn Showcase Days”. It was a big event with 200 Longhorns and 500 spectators for an official Horn-Measuring event. The event produced a fashion show, educational seminars, a bred & owned heifer sale, the Heritage of Horns Gala dance, and concluded with a Horn Showcase Sale and Brunch. The TLBAA features events throughout the year.  (5)


  1. https://news.utexas.edu/2013/03/27/texas-longhorn-genome-decoded/
  2. https://thefarmatwalnutcreek.com/cattle-texas-longhorn-cattle.html
  3. https://www.texastribune.org/2012/10/12/why-texas-longhorns-owe-their-survival-oklahoma/
  4. http://visitwimberley.com/critters/longhorn2.shtml
  5. https://www.tlbaa.org/

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