Texas Longhorn Changes
Part III -THE RANCHING BUSINESS & TEXAS LONGHORNS
by Darol Dickinson
Every progressive livestock breed association has some method of measuring breed improvements. It may be pounds of milk, rate of gain, the speed of a horse, the color of an Appaloosa or the tip to tip on a Texas Longhorn. Whatever the goal, it is consistent that the most treasured attributes are more profitable to the producers. It goes another step that the peculiar traits desired are even more profitable if a huge population wants the same trait and can share increased profit from it. It may appear about sentimentality, preservation or hobby, but in the long run, profit is the main driving force. Profit can make any hobby into a realistic business.
Intelligent management and record keeping has allowed the agriculture industry of the USA to lead the world in plant and livestock genetic superiority. Breed improvement may be achieved faster and more intelligently today than in any period of history. Tools of frozen semen and embryos can be flown around the globe in a matter of hours making progress not only possible, but easy and fast. The technology for breed improvement is very valuable -- often at only a small premium.
The Texas Longhorn survival-of-the-fittest generations of time and stress was a major changer of the breed for 500 years. The genetic failures and the weak died young.
The next big change was the early breed association inspections. Inspectors believed capable of visually deciding which Texas Longhorns deserved to be registered were employed. The main three inspectors were Heck Schrader, Garnet Brooks and Graves Peeler. Every foundation animal registered passed their visual inspection.
Early producers (1960 to 1975) worked to change cattle with obvious improvements to breed purity, faulty conformation, structural defects, and beyond that, beef conformation, horn growth and value colors. A good bull was 900 to 1100 lbs and some very favored herd sires had a tip to tip of 28 to 36 inches. In the early seventies very few bulls measured up to 40" at any age.
Die hard Texas Longhorn producers, like myself, took criticism on the chin when our bulls sported no longer appendages than a horned Hereford. At a time when very few range bulls weighed over 1700 lbs, TL bulls were way behind the pack slightly over half that size. In reality the foundation cattle didn't have exhibition horn or valid beef merit. We talked about longevity, calving ease, disease resistance, etc., until the breed had some time to improve.
Today after over 150,000 Texas Longhorns have been registered. Careful attention to the earlier faults have given way, with the years, to the fine tuning of the best of the best. The intelligent selection of matings to produce the highest of today's values take the breed far past simple historic western preservation. The market demands producers keep pace, excel or be lost in the dusty alleys of the local livestock auction sale.
Johnnie Hoffman, Seven T Ranch, Metairie, Louisiana is quoted in an interviewed for a Texas Longhorn Journal article over 30 years ago. "There have been a lot of breed improvements since I started raising Longhorns. Back then a 40" horned cow was top-of-the-line regardless of body conformation. Today every serious breeder has a few over 50" horned cows that weigh 850 to 1,000 lbs. Before, no one cared what they weighed if they had big horns. We can look back at the old-time breeders and see how the cattle have improved.
"If you can put right matings together and it works to improve the cattle, stay with it. If not, change matings. Watch what other good breeders do. Now, we have much bigger-horned cattle with beef conformation. The bigger, beefier bulls are here to stay! We're not just raising novelty cattle... it's competitive beef."
At my first Wichita Refuge sale (for 40 years this was the one sale per year) the speckled brindle and blacks topped the sale. This was a change from the pale foundation cattle. Everyone agreed color was the single highest value. After that period a change to the factor of size won the favored value designation. The first bull to weigh a ton was Ranger's Big'un who sold to Larry Smith Jr in the early eighties for $20,000. "Big'un's" sire, Texas Ranger had brought body size and horn to the breed and a giant step forward was achieved. The Butler family brought a change with the new birth of horn to the breed. A Bold Ruler daughter sold in the Wichita Refuge sale for $32,000, the all time record for a government TL sale.
For a few dozen years the Texas Longhorn business was so "hot" producers paid no attention to commercial cattle prices. It cost $400 to maintain a generic cow for a year, so when the calf sold for $500 TL producers considered commercial cattle a very poor business. Their own TL heifers were selling from $800 to well beyond. The commercial cattle business had no intrigue what so ever.
Another change; as the world's appetite for beef increases the USA can no longer produce enough beef to feed the nation. As a result, commercial prices have virtually doubled for generic beef cattle. This fast switch went mostly unnoticed by TL producers. While they were working on the highly popular tip to tip fad, the value of cattle by the pound became an all new fresh world.
Today, soon to be 2013, each of us are reevaluating; rechecking our basic business plan. We have new challenges, but new and different opportunities. To our surprise, beef, whether Longhorn or whatever, is the highest price in world history. Cull cattle are going to a grind market at high prices never reached before. It is time to switch gears in the TL business and breed more size for this beautiful new and expanding market.
In 1975 the best commercial beef bulls weighed 1800 lbs. Now there are Texas Longhorn bulls well over a ton who carry the over 80" spreads, low birth weights and spots wall to wall. It is time to use TL bloodlines and raise not only the kind of exhibition cattle desired, but also cattle that press the scales down. It can and is being done.
Here at Dickinson Cattle Co Inc performance testing data has been carefully gathered for 45 years. TL cattle are bred that are thick, with competitive weaning weights, that still possess the historical TL efficiency traits.
Now it is not a matter of making excuses for Hereford size horns or midget size cows. There are families of TL cattle competitive with the whole world and still great, true Texas Longhorns. Give a call and purchase a beef type young bull or semen from thick, ton plus over 70" and 80" genetics. In the future cattle business we will have to touch all the bases rather than just play the game. It is a great new world ahead for Texas Longhorn producers.