A True Texas Original: The Story Of The Mighty Longhorn Cattle
When it comes to cattle, the shaggy-haired Highland cattle might be getting all the internet hype right now, as they are outrageously cute. Kobe beef cattle are (rightfully) the culinary darling of the world. But neither of these noble breeds can touch my favorite: the incredibly cool and mighty Texas Longhorn.
Okay, I'm biased, but look at this majestic beast! And they have a fascinating history. Longhorns are a true Texas original.
Cattle are not indigenous to North America, so the denizens of Texas ranches are breeds or hybrid breeds that came over from Old World countries. Interestingly, modern cattle were domesticated from the massive auroch, an animal venerated by many cultures, including Mesopotamians, Romans, and Egyptians.
Longhorns are a hybrid breed of Spanish Criollo cattle and English Hereford cattle. Spanish and English cattle were mixed on a small scale in the early 1800s, "but by the Civil War the half-wild Texas longhorns emerged as a recognizable type." Their very long horns had less to do with genetics, and more to do with the fact that they were wild and free- the very long horns grew on male animals over 4 years old. After the war, these cattle were better managed, resulting in better bloodlines but smaller horn spans.
Fascinatingly, Texas Longhorns are responsible for the health and well-being of other cattle breeds, having developed an immunity to Texas Fever, a very fatal cattle disease. The Longhorns passed their immunity onto other breeds upon exposure on cattle trails. Longhorns were ideal on cattle trails, as they are heartily built and even gained weight on their journey.
Despite their many virtues, by the 1920s, Longhorn cattle had nearly gone extinct. They were brought back from the brink in wildlife refuges and state parks. They regained popularity with consumers because Longhorn beef is quite lean- perfect for those trying to cut down on fats. Since the 1960s, Longhorns have been considered a "pure breed" and many folks participate in breeding programs to keep their breed standard pristine.
As of 1995, Longhorns became Texas' "large mammal" state symbol, joining armadillos and Mexican free-tail bats are official state mammals. They are a symbol of our beautifully diverse frontier past, and our rugged, unique present. And thanks to dedicated breeders, they are a part of our Texas future, too.
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