The only American cattle breed to develop its characteristics without the benefit of human intervention, the Texas Longhorn arose from ancestors that were the first cattle to arrive in America.
The first long-horned cattle were brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1493. These cattle were subsequently brought into North America by Spanish conquerors to feed the armies that spread Spanish influence throughout Mexico and the American Southwest. Allowed to roam free, the Spanish cattle developed characteristics that made them ideal for life on the open plains -- extreme hardiness, disease and parasite resistance, and the ability to utilize marginal rangelands more efficiently than most other breeds.
The English began bringing their own breeds of cattle into America in 1623. Although occasionally slaughtered for their meat, the majority of English cattle brought to America were bred for either milk production or for use as draft animals. These breeds were usually noted for their high fertility rates, easy calving, and, in some cases, for strength and endurance.
When the English began moving west they took their cattle with them. Somewhere in the ranges west of the Mississippi River the English cattle began "mixing" with the Spanish cattle. As the two strains merged, the best characteristics of both strains were reproduced in the offspring, and by the mid-1800's the Texas Longhorn had become the dominant cattle breed on the plains that had once been home to vast herds of bison. All the qualities that made the Texas Longhorn the standard breed seen on the great cattle drives of the 1870's and 1880's -- the long legs and hard hoofs, hardiness, and ability to actually gain weight on the trail -- had arisen strictly through natural selection; no single breeder can lay claim to having selectively bred those characteristics into the Texas Longhorn.
The popularity of the Texas Longhorn declined as the vast plains were fenced in and plowed under, ending the great cattle drive era. Cattlemen began importing breeds to meet specific needs (beef quality, milk quality, etc.), and the Texas Longhorn was relegated to being essentially a "donor breed," providing just those genes necessary to enhance one or two qualities of another breed in order to produce the desired offspring. Intensive cross-breeding had almost erased the true Texas Longhorn by 1900, but fortunately a few die-hard ranchers saved the breed from extinction. Beginning in 1927, the federal government preserved Texas Longhorns on wildlife refuges in Oklahoma and Nebraska. In addition, some southwestern cattlemen maintained their own small herds through the years, usually for purely nostalgic reasons. The Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America was formed in 1964.
Although most Texas Longhorn herds are still maintained as a curiosity by cattlemen, zoos, and in wildlife refuges, the breed is also now being raised by some cattlemen because of the increasing desire for lean beef by the American consumer. The breed also continues to be used for cross-breeding purposes.
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This page was last updated on 03/01/2013.