The Benefits of Raising Texas Longhorn Cattle

Despite their troublesome reputation, learn how Texas longhorn cattle are among of the best cattle breeds to raise.

  • Texas Longhorn
    Texas Longhorn cattle are among the hardiest, most economical breeds of cattle.

  • Texas Longhorn

When seeing longhorn cattle for the first time, it's difficult not to be surprised by the dramatic sweep of their headgear. The upward-curving horns rise elegantly over the grass-grazers' rather thin-looking faces. On mature cows, these defensive weapons can measure two feet from tip to tip, a bull's may stretch to four feet and steers can produce "trophy-size" horns of up to seven feet long!
On second glance, one might well notice the variety of colors found in the animals' coats. When grouped together in a herd, longhorns can form a rainbow of subtle earth tones: spotted and solid shades of black, brown, red, yellow, cream and almost every imaginable shade in between.

But, impressive horns and diverse colors aren't the only qualities that set this Texas trademark apart from the other popular beef breeds. Look at a longhorn, and you'll typically see a lean animal that's clearly quite different from plump, thickly finished feedlot steers. In keeping with its looks, the lanky bovine yields perfect mealtime steaks and connoisseur's roasts of lean meat. In fact, because of the Texas longhorn's foraging ability, resistance to drought and diseases, mothering instinct and general ability to lead a long and fruitful life, it may be the most practical and economical steak-maker over the long haul of all the breeds raised in this country.

The Legend of Texas Longhorn

The American saga of the Texas longhorn began in 1519, when the conquistadors subdued Mexico and introduced their rangy cattle to the new continent. As the Spanish missions spread northward, the domesticated animals were brought into Texas, where — for more than 300 years — the rawboned, slab-sided critters ranged free on the prairies. There, the survival of the fittest was the rule of the herd, and animals that lacked disease resistance simply died. In their harsh environment, the survivors developed into the rugged breed of extremely tough and crafty animals that today we call the Texas longhorns. The herds were, for the most part, wild or semi-wild and they had temperaments to match! Their ornery nature led Jimmy Stewart (in the movie The Rare Breed) to describe the livestock — somewhat unfairly — as "meatless, milkless and murderous."

In 1836, when Anglo-American settlers took over Texas, large numbers of Mexican ranchers abandoned both their cattle and their homes. Then, 30 years later — at the end of the Civil War — soldiers from the Southwest returned to find many of their homes destroyed, and the large population of prolific and free-ranging longhorns became a means of survival for such individuals. Between 1866 and 1890 they drove an estimated 10 million cattle — in herds that numbered into the thousands — over the 900 miles of the legendary Chisholm and Western Trails to railheads in Abilene and Dodge City thus earning a place in the annals of American history for both the Texas cowboy and the longhorn.

However, after the cattle drives were largely over (in the late 19th century), many ranchers began to crossbreed Hereford and shorthorn with the longhorn in the effort to produce a meatier animal. With that, the legendary longhorn, as an individual breed, was soon in danger of extinction. Finally, in 1927, a purebred longhorn herd (rigidly selected to represent the typical longhorn) was established at the Wichita National Forest and Game Preserve near Cache, Okla. Animals from this group were then used, in 1936, to develop another herd at the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska.

Even so, as recently as 1960 there were fewer than 2,500 Texas longhorns in the United States, and about a quarter of those were in federal refuges. But, by 1964, as cow-folk began to awaken to the qualities of the animal, a breed society was formed. Today, the Texas Longhorn Cattle Association has some 1,200 members and approximately 37,000 registered cattle.

2/23/2019 2:23:23 AM

Correction to the correction! My cattle operation bought a dozen longhorn cows because they were cheap. Longhorns are very very intelligent cattle, that also have strong instincts of motherhood and self-preservation. A tame or pet Longhorn can be as clever and gentle as a puppy because it sees people as friends. But an under socialized and/or frightened Longhorn is smart enough to know it is larger than a human, and perceptive enough to sense when it is being herded. They will hide in pastures, jump fences, and can turn and try to fight a human if they feel cornered or are protecting their babies. They're a very interesting breed, but not the easiest to keep if you want docile cows and can't go out and tame each one like a puppy.

5/14/2013 5:18:14 PM

CORRECTION! Texas Longhorns are NOT troublesome: They could not be sweeter or smarter or more beautiful! They are also very affectionate and develop strong emotional bonds with the persons who care for them. Texas Longhorns are athletic and make great Riding Steers! Visit us at to view how diversified these amazing cattle truly are.



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