The iconic breed of cattle known as Texas Longhorn evolved from select Iberian cattle that early explorers introduced to the New World from Spain and Portugal in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. They were used as a source of food, leather, tallow, and oxen labor, playing a key role in early European settlements. As Spanish missions were settled and later abandoned due to conflicts, raids and diseases, the cattle roamed freely, unencumbered by man in the wild open spaces, eventually becoming America’s original cattle breed.
In the 1800s Anglo-European settlers arrived in Texas. They gathered the feral cattle for beef, rawhide and oxen labor while introducing other fattier Indian and European cattle. Texas Longhorns fell out of favor in the beef industry because their horns did not fit well into rail cars and later into feedlots. By the end of the 19th century, following extensive cross-breeding and numbers reduction due to cattle drives, longhorn populations were seriously endangered.
Texas Longhorn cattle range in weight from 800 to 1200 pounds depending on the land on which they are raised. They are recognized for their healthful beef characteristics; their ability to thrive in harsh, marginal environments with little maintenance from humans; and the economic advantage to raising them due to their naturally evolved heartiness including disease resistance and fertility. Beef from the Texas Longhorn has a robust flavor that echoes their wild heritage, with somewhat of a sweet taste.
Despite efforts to conserve Texas Longhorns, as of 2015 their numbers are still seriously at risk due to continued crossbreeding, herd reductions, retiring ranchers, and lack of public awareness of Heritage Texas Longhorn as a healthy edible beef choice. The Livestock Conservancy has classified historically correct, heritage Texas Longhorn Cattle (CTLR) as “Critically Endangered” — facing near extinction. The global population of these purebred heritage longhorns may be just over 3000 animals, with approximately 1200 longhorns in the U.S.