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Texas Longhorns - A Genetic Gold Mine
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© Christine Till
The Texas Longhorn is a breed of cattle known for its characteristic horns, which can extend to 7 feet (2.1 m) tip to tip for steers and exceptional cows, and 36 to 80 inches (0.91 to 2.0 m) tip to tip for bulls.
Though more and more people are realizing the environmental destruction of raising cattle and the health dangers of eating beef and dairy, longhorns were a great part of the history and the influence of Texas.
What makes Texas Longhorns different from the multitude of other breeds now available in North America? Simply this: The Texas Longhorn was fashioned entirely by nature right here in North America. Stemming from ancestors that were the first cattle to set foot on American soil in 1493, it became the sound end product of "survival of the fittest". Shaped by a combination of natural selection and adaptation to the environment, the Texas Longhorn is the only cattle breed in America which - without aid from man - is truly adapted to America. Hardy, aggressive, and adaptable, the Texas Longhorns were well suited to the rigors of life on the ranges of the southwestern United States. They survived as a primitive animal on the most primitive of ranges and became the foundation stock of that region's great cattle industry.
With the destruction of the buffalo following the Civil War, the Longhorns were rushed in to occupy the Great Plains, a vast empire of grass vacated by the buffalo. Cattlemen brought their breeding herds north to run on the rich grazing lands of western Nebraska, Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Montana. Thus, the Great Plains became stocked largely with these "bovine citizens" from the Southwest. And, the Texas Longhorns adapted well to their expanding world. They had reached their historical heyday, dominating the beef scene of North America like no other cattle breed has done since. However, the romantic Longhorn era came to an end when their range was fenced in and plowed under and imported cattle with quick maturing characteristics were brought in to "improve" beef qualities. Intensive crossbreeding had nearly erased the true typical Longhorn by 1900.
Fortunately, beginning in 1927, the Texas Longhorn was preserved by the United States Government on wildlife refuges in Oklahoma and Nebraska. Also, a few southwestern cattlemen, convinced of the Longhorn's value as a genetic link and concerned for their preservation, maintained small herds through the years. Thus, the Texas Longhorn was rescued from extinction.
An almost forgotten reservoir of unique genetic material, the Longhorn is literally an old source of new genes! In fact, the Texas Longhorn may prove to be a real "genetic gold-mine" in the future of the beef industry. Texas Longhorns with elite genetics can often fetch $40,000 or more at auction with the record of $170,000 in recent history for a cow.
September 19th, 2012
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