Cattle Breeds Native to North America

The Texas Longhorn

The Texas Longhorn cow breed is well named. The horns of the Texas Longhorn may have a tip to tip measurement of 4 feet but this is not excessive. Seventy to 80 inches is not uncommon and the base circumference may be 12 inches or more. The horns grow laterally from the skull and often the tip has a slight upward turn. Many horns are twisted, even to the extent of having a triple twist, but some are flat.

Longhorn 2Credit:

There are three methods of measuring the horns. Probably the most common is the tip to tip measurement. Total Horn Measurement measures along the contours of the horn and the third method is to measure the circumference at the largest part of the horn. This is normally at the poll. This is called Base or Poll Measurement. All these can be converted to the HMA (Horns per Month of Age) which means the age of the animal (in months) is divided by the horn measurement.

Apart from the long horns, the Longhorn is distinctive for its colouring. Splotches, blotches, patches, mismatches – roans, burnt orange, lemon and all shades of red, brown and black are found in the Texas Longhorn. The hair is short and straight. Bulls have coarse, wiry hair on the head and neck and the hair on the ears is long.


The breed is an excellent example of Mother Nature's 'survival of the fittest' as natural selection and adaptation to the environment has seen the Longhorn develop into a tough, hardy breed. They have high fertility, good longevity, good resistance to diseases and parasites and will exist without too many problems on very marginal grazing. The Longhorn can thrive on brush and cactus if it has to. It will cope with minimal water supplies, freezing winters and humid, hot summers.

Like the Florida Cracker, the Longhorn's forebears came to America with the Spanish in the late 1400s. The English brought their cattle in 1623 and subsequent cross-breeding plus the continuing influence of the elements and the environment saw the emergence of a rugged, thrifty breed. It also accounts for the huge varieties of colour and patterns seen today.

Later, thousands of Longhorns were driven from the southwest into Montana, Wyoming, west Nebraska and the Dakotas. With the introduction of fencing and a more intensive animal husbandry, the ability to 'live off the (marginal) land' became less important. However the attentive mothering instincts of the Longhorn cow were well recognised and quick maturing British breed bulls were regularly crossed with the local cows. By the early 1900s, intensive crossbreeding saw the pure Longhorn become almost a thing of the past. In an era when great quantities of tallow were needed for candles, cooking, lubricants and soap the naturally lean Longhorn was at a major disadvantage. It was soon to lose favour with ranchers and the fatter British breeds would become dominant on the local cattle scene.

Luckily, before it was too late, the genetic diversity of the Texas Longhorn was recognised as a valuable resource and during the 1920s, six distinct Longhorn strains were perpetuated by private ranchers. A seventh strain was established at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Cache, Oklahoma in 1927.

The purebred Longhorn should have an angular shape with good length. Hereford-type markings, a pronounced Bos indicus hump, excessive dewlap or blocky head are all seen as evidence of 'foreign' blood. The long neck has little loose skin and the shoulders move freely. The back is long and straight and the tail long with a full switch. The legs are set squarely and have good bone as befits an animal which has had to forage long hours and great distances for its nourishment. The hooves are hard.

The head is long and there should be colour around the eyes. The ears are rounded. The muzzle is wide and, like the eyes, should be coloured. Colouring round the eyes and muzzle reduces the risk of sunburn and skin cancers.

The longhorn has strong survival instincts and the cows are exceptional mothers. They calve easily at a relatively young age and continue to breed well into their teen years. The bulls are virile and the disposition of the breed as a whole is mild and tractable. Steers are often broken to saddle.

The survival instinct is strong in calves too with newborns on their feet and suckling soon after birth. Cows hide their calves if threatened. A quite low birth weight means maiden heifers of any breed rarely have any trouble calving. The lean meat of the Longhorn has less cholesterol, fat and calories than most beef.

The Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America was founded in 1964. The other recognised registry for the breed is the International Texas Longhorn Association. As well, the Cattlemen's Texas Longhorn Registry Certified Texas Longhorn Registry (CTLR) plays a major role in preserving the original bloodlines of the breed. It seeks to preserve full-blood Texas Longhorns for posterity.

The Texas Longhorn is now the official symbol of Fort Worth, Texas.