|The Texas Longhorn, Part 2 - Near Extinction, Preservation, and Valuable Future
Photographs and Article by Lewis Smith
Pictured above: Cowhands with one of
Captain Charles Schreiner's Y.O. herds ready to cross the Red River in the 1880s. Captain
Schreiner trailed some 300,000 head north in the 1870s and 80s. The Y.O. ranch near
Kerrville, Texas has been a stronghold of the Longhorn breed and the Captain's grandson,
Charlie Schreiner III, was a founder and first president of the Texas Longhorn Breeders
Association. [Photo courtesy Texas Longhorn Breeders Association Archives]
From its peak in about 1890, the Longhorn population headed rapidly toward complete extinction. Several factors contributed to this near disaster. First, breeds such as Angus, Hereford and Shorthorn were introduced and inbred with Longhorns to “fatten up” ranch livestock. This helped better meet the demand for tallow, the chief ingredient of candles, soaps, and lubricants. The Longhorn had 80% less renderable tallow than the English breeds, but it also hastened its end by being a great provider of another desirable by-product:
Dobie points out that Texas was once called “The Rawhide State.” The saying was, “what a Texan can’t mend with rawhide ain’t worth mending.”
Horse hobbles, ropes, reins, whips, chair seats, repairing rifle stocks and wheel spokes and on...and on... were all rawhide products or jobs. And, hides of lean animals are more durable than those of fat animals...making the Longhorn a leading provider.
If all that wasn’t trouble enough for the Longhorn, in the late 1800s they were considered game animals, along with deer, antelope and buffalo. Much harder to get a shot at a wild Texas cow than any of the others, it was claimed.
Were it not for six far-sighted cattle families and a U.S. Government action in the 1920s, the Longhorn breed and their genetic treasure trove undoubtedly would have been forever lost. The stories of how and why the six families preserved small herds of Longhorns are each unique, but the common denominator is they were alarmed by the disappearance of the animals and thought it important to hold some back. The Government herd was established in 1927, with the careful acquisition of a breeding stock of 20 cows and 3 bulls (the remains of some 40 million cattle in Texas only 60 years previously).
The next major step in preservation occurred in 1964 with the creation of the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America. With over 2,500 Texas Longhorns in the U.S., the aim of the Association was to preserve the cattle and perform the registration requirements to maintain a herd book and follow the ancestry. Today, 250,000 Longhorns are registered with the Association.
Names of some of the “Greats” in this century’s leading Longhorn pedigrees illustrate the increasing “specialness” of the breed. If you have one of these names in your animal’s pedigrees you have a terrific animal: Classic, Senator, Tabasco, Overwhelmer, Measles Super Ranger, Rural Delivery, Lethal Weapon, Jet Jockey, King and Cow Catcher.
Ironically, Ag experts are now looking at the Longhorn as a genetic goldmine to help ranchers better deal with problems of increasing forage costs, demand for more lean beef, easy calving, disease and parasite resistance, hardiness, on and on.
Where have we heard that before?