As you probably know, we raise purebred Texas Longhorn cattle.
To say the least, this is a bit of an oddity in our area. I can count on one hand the number of farms I know in Eastern Ontario that have Texas Longhorns, and in most of those cases they are kept as a bit of novelty 'yard art', not for beef production.
Compared to other breeds, Longhorns are a rarity here and even relatively uncommon in Texas compared to other breeds. But that wasn't always the case.
Longhorns are descendants of the first cattle brought to the Americas. As in, Christopher Columbus literally brought them with him to the Caribbean Spanish Islands. In 1492, he sailed the ocean blue...and brought you the beef that's in your freezer right now.
Over the next 200 years, the breed was propagated throughout Mexico and then into what would later become Texas. Having either escaped or been turned loose on the range, many of the cattle at this time were living wild. During this time they developed - through natural selection - the drought and feed stress tolerance, amazing mothering instincts, natural disease resistance, easy calving, and other survival traits that they are prized for today.
Around the year 1700, the first American settlers rounded up some of these wild Mexican cattle to form the large cattle herds of the Wild West.
The classic western movie 'cattle drive' perfectly captures the Texas Longhorn life. They were left on range to fend for themselves, then driven in huge herds across the country to processing facilities. They walked 1000's of miles, crossed rivers, protected their calves against predators, and actually gained weight as they went. Truly amazing when you think about it.
Gradually though, the breed began to decline in popularity. One reason for this is because in the 18th and 19th century the beef industry turned more towards tallow (beef fat) production for non-food related industries. Texas Longhorns are exceptionally lean, and so the breed fell out of favour.
Their disease resistance also actually worked against them. A disease called Cattle Tick Fever was devastating other breeds of cattle, and although Longhorns were generally not affected, they could carry the disease. Large 'wild' herds were subsequently destroyed to prevent the spread.
In fact, Texas Longhorns nearly went extinct, to the point that every longhorn today is descended from one of 7 herds from the early 20th century.
Now though, Texas Longhorns are making a resurgence. For it's exceptional flavour and leanness, longhorn beef is becoming popular in homes and restaurants.
For 400 years following the discovery of America, most beef breeds were being selectively bred towards some commercial result (such as quick growth or excessive tallow). Longhorns on the other hand were being naturally selected in the wild towards being all around good cows. They grow slowly, are incredibly hardy, and are sometimes closer to a wild herd than a domesticated one.
The result is an amazing breed of animal with unbeatable beefy flavour.
I hope you enjoyed that history lesson, and now you know a little bit more about the beef in your freezer!
Willie & Jorie