Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Size Matters: The Last of the Longhorn Trilogy

Those who raise Herefords, Angus or one of many breeds of cattle think size matters. Longhorns tend to be as much as twenty-five percent smaller than Herefords or Angus. Since cattle are raised to produce beef and sold by the pound to the packing plant, assuming you start off by paying the same amount per head for Longhorns as you do the other breeds, it just makes sense to raise the heavier animals. Right?

Wrongo. What some ranchers overlook is that they are not selling beef. They are selling grass. They just ship it to market in a beef container. And how efficiently a bovine converts grass to beef is very important. So the question isn’t how many head of cattle you put on any given pasture, it’s how many pounds you put on that pasture and how many pounds you have at market time.

I submit that if you put the same number of pounds of Longhorns on a given pasture they will return the same amount, or more, beef as their bigger cousins. They graze more efficiently because nature taught them to survive on marginal forage. They are more heat tolerant so they will continue to graze through many a hot day. You drive through cattle country when the thermometer is topping eighty degrees and you’ll see cattle resting under shade trees or on the shady side of buildings and down in shady draws. They’ll stay there until it cools off. But not Longhorns. They’ll be on their feet, grazing the grass or browsing the brush. Oh, and by the way, most Herefords and Angus don’t browse. They’re too persnickety. They only use the brush for shade.

Longhorns also handle going without water better than most other breeds.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How Longhorns Saved My Writing Career

Last time I pointed out some misconceptions regarding Texas Longhorn cattle. Let me tell you how I became enamored with this great bovine breed. And then I’ll address some misconceptions that still exist.

In the early 80s our country was suffering a recession - not as bad as right now, but bad enough. After a blow-up with my partner in the La Veta restaurant we moved to Colorado Springs and I went to work for a builder. This turned out to be another blunder as interest rates climbed to 18 1/2%. After two years I was once again looking for a job. A friend owned a mining company and hired me to run their off balance sheet financing. In order to do this I had to get a securities license which entailed taking a nine month course in order to pass the SEC exam.

Meanwhile wife Cy (actually Cyrenne but no one calls her that) went to work as the bookkeeper for the Texas Longhorn Journal, based in the Springs, which was one of two full color, high dollar magazines that acted as the breed publications for the industry. Her bookkeeping job morphed into an advertising sales job and she started attending sales and shows around the country.

I occasionally went with her and started learning about the traits that these critters could bring to the cattle business. But I was astounded at the prices paid for Longhorns. Many breeders were Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado oilmen and money wasn’t an object. But that changed when the oil business tanked. Suddenly Longhorn prices were plummeting  and advertising sales were too. When you could sell one calf to pay for a full page, full color ad there were plenty of advertisers. When it suddenly took the sale of five calves to accomplish the same result advertisers were scarce as hockey player teeth. Cy was struggling and I was going to school in Denver every day. Things were getting tight.

Then the SEC changed the rules for off balance sheet fund raising and my job was made moot. I dropped out of the school and was home licking my wounds one day when Cy came home for lunch. Now I’m pretty good at reading her moods. Hell, Helen Keller could read her moods from a mile away. You’ve heard of people who wear their emotions on their sleeves? Cy’s spill over on to everyone’s sleeves and other body parts. She definitely had a mad on.

She plunked down in a chair and stared at me. “That sonofabitch.” I was very relieved. She wasn’t mad at me. She went on to explain that she had what she thought was a brainstorm. Longhorn prices were down but people still needed to advertise and sell them. Why not start an alternative to the glossy magazine by starting a tabloid paper. She had run some preliminary figures and felt that it could be done and allow ads that would cost 25% of those in the Journal. She had taken this idea to her boss. He had laughed at her and told her it was the craziest thing he’d ever heard.

So she looked me in the eye and said “Why don’t you and I do it?” I had a degree in communications. I thought “Hell, why not.” As they say, the rest is history. We started Longhorn World. Soon we were traveling all over the country attending Longhorn shows and sales and visiting ranches. Then we'd rush home and put out a monthly publication. We struggled at first but we gained momentum. Two years down the road the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America who had wanted their own publication for several years offered to buy us out and move us to Fort Worth to run a magazine for them. We jumped at it and started the Texas Longhorn Trails. We ran that magazine for several years before we moved back to Colorado to take care of my mother in 1991.

During those Longhorn magazine days my appreciation for the Longhorn grew. I know raisers of Hereford and Angus cattle will cite many downsides to the Longhorn as a beef animal. They make some points that are worth looking into. I’ll address them next time as I finish my Longhorn trilogy.

In the mean time don’t forget that NO MORE BULL is now available as a soft bound book and I am offering it to readers of my blog at HALF PRICE for the rest of August. Just click on

We’ll talk down the trail.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pre-publication offer

It's finally published. Eeeehah. After four plus years No More Bull sees the light of day. To all of you who have supported this effort - friends, acquaintances and fellow Pikes Peak Writers members - I want to thank you by offering you a signed copy at 50% off or $9.50 vs. $18.95, the price you'd pay at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Just click on the link below.

It will take you to McMillan Books which is the company my wife and I own to deal in rare and out-of-print books. We sell on line through ABE Books which, a subsidiary of Amazon. If you don't have an account with ABE it is easy to do and you will be shown how during the purchase process.

Just click on "Add to Basket." ABE takes most major credit cards
This offer is good for the rest of this month. If you wish a special message inscribed leave that under "Special Instructions" which you will find in the check out process.

If you wish to purchase No More Bull in a different manner you can email me.

Thanks for your support. Next time I'll get back to talking about Longhorns and other things featured in my story.

See you down the Trail


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Don’t Eat That Longhorn!

Last time I told about the steer I didn’t buy. You know, the twelve year old Longhorn steer that I expected to pick up for a few hundred dollars only to see the auctioneer pound his gravel at twelve thousand. I finished that article (I can’t help it, I spent too many years writing for a magazine, I just can’t get myself to use the B word) by saying that either those Longhorn folks knew something I didn’t, or they were crazy as hell.

 Well, they did know something I didn’t. They knew the Texas Longhorn, the animal that built the Western United States. You think that’s an exaggeration? Not so. After the Civil War millions of Texas Longhorns roamed the prairies and forests of Texas, most the offspring of cattle that had been abandoned by ranchers and farmers who went off to war. These were the survivors and that’s a key word. They are the bovine example of survival of the fittest. They learned to survive drought, insects, poor feed and predators like the panther and the wolf. If a Longhorn critter couldn’t survive those conditions they died - and so did their genes.

 When the war was over and the men returned (survivors in their own right) they had to make a living. The vast number of Longhorns provided a solution. For the next ten plus years these cattle were gathered (no small feat since they had been running wild for years) and trailed to railheads in Missouri and Kansas.

 Remember the Longhorns in John Wayne’s Red River? They were scrawny, temperamental and hard to handle. Oh, and by the way, most of those weren’t Longhorns at all.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

These Aren’t John Wayne’s Longhorns

I was asked last week, “Why are you using Longhorn cattle in your story?”  The implication was that I should be writing about REAL cattle. You know, the black ones or the brown and white ones instead of those scrawny, mean Texas Longhorns that John Wayne and all the other celluloid cowboys trailed through countless movies.

 My granddad raised Herefords - some registered, most not. He loved them and swore by them. So, I grew up thinking Herefords were the only cattle to have. I bought into the John Wayne image of Longhorns. Tough, scrawny, cantankerous, hard to handle, easy to spook. Who’d want to raise those things? Might as well breed wild cats and cross them with werewolves.

 When I moved to La Veta, Colorado (where, by the way, my mystery NO MORE BULL is staged) to take over a restaurant, I noticed there were several ranches in the area that ran Texas Longhorns. Of course most of them were owned by Texas oilmen, so that kind of made sense to me. I really didn’t give it a lot of thought. But I got my first up-close-and-personal moment with the breed when asked to cater a Longhorn sale. They would supply the meat. I would smoke it and prepare it for a barbecue with my “secret” sauce. Now, my first surprise came when I tasted the meat. It wasn’t tough and stringy. It was lean but really tender and tasty. I attributed that to my smoker.

 My second surprise came at the sale.