Ranchers hoping to preserve purity of Texas longhorns

US - Hondo rancher Debbie Davis has no beef with those who want to see their Texas longhorns, well, beefier.
calendar icon 26 February 2007
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Her passion, though, lies with preserving the traditional longhorn breed that survived on little grass and water as it roamed Texas and other parts of the West during the mid-1800s.

"A true Texas longhorn is endangered right now," said Davis, president of the Cattlemen's Texas Longhorn Registry which is striving to keep the bloodline of the traditional longhorn as pure as possible.

The longhorn isn't on any endangered lists, but visit any livestock show and all the competition is between longhorns that have far more heft and girth than the traditional rangy and gaunt animal.

Davis and other ranchers believe crossbreeding with other cattle species is diminishing the traditional's numbers.

Others say a longhorn is a longhorn is a longhorn.

"You're always going to have people giving you an opinion of what a longhorn looks like," said Larry Barker, general manager of the Fort Worth-based Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America, which also registers the animals. "If you asked six people, you'd get six different answers, and all six of them would be correct."

There's plenty beyond the name that ties the breed to Texas. It's the state's official large mammal and the mascot for the University of Texas. Bevo XIV, the current mascot, is a true longhorn and lives on a ranch northwest of Austin, its owner said.

Davis' registry is working on a DNA database that will define the genetic makeup of a traditional longhorn. Until then, animals are required to have a visual inspection as well as blood-typing to see if there are markers of other breeds.

Davis and others have registered about 3,500 longhorns since 1990.

"What they're doing is real important, to retain as close as possible" the true longhorn, said Dr. Phil Sponenberg, a veterinarian and professor of pathology and genetics at Virginia Tech University.

Mixing traditional longhorns with cattle breeds such as Angus and Hereford for show purposes began about 20 years ago, Barker said. It's created bigger animals, some with longer horns, that are winning livestock show competitions across the state and the country.

Davis said she believes livestock shows are "responsible for the degradation" of the traditional animal.

Progenitors of the traditional longhorn go back to Neolithic times and were first domesticated in Europe from Asiatic stock. The cattle were brought to North America from southwestern Spain around 1500. They spread from Mexico and some eventually became feral. They became hardier and thrived wherever they roamed, from swamplands in Louisiana to deserts in California.

Source: Houston Chronicle
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