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.
They were a mixture of Mexican Corrientes, a cousin (the kind you don't mention in polite society) to the Longhorn, and cross bred culls. By 1948 when Red River was shot there weren’t enough Longhorns available. The Longhorn breed had dwindled to just a few owned by a hand full of breeders in Texas and a few that were being saved by the government at the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge outside Lawton, Oklahoma.

 Due to an image promulgated by English ranch owners who bought up much of the West in the late 1800’s thinking they would “improve” beef in America by importing Short Horn, Hereford and later Angus cattle, the American beef eater came to think of Longhorns as tough, stringy tasteless beef. Who’d want to eat that? But a little known fact is the Longhorns that were driven eight or nine hundred miles actually gained weight on the trip. Try doing that with a herd of Herefords or Black Angus.

 True, many of the Longhorns driven to Kansas and subsequently shipped to parts east were tough, stringy and tasteless. After all, many of them had run wild for years, fending for themselves eating prickly pear while dodging rattle snakes. You take any bovine critter, turn him out in South Texas for five to ten years and then, assuming he’s still alive, slaughter and eat him and you’ll find him to be tough, stringy and tasteless compared to the corn fed beef we have become accustomed to.

 But take a two-year-old Longhorn steer, put him in a feed lot, feed him grain for ninety to one-hundred-twenty days and you have some very tasty beef. He won’t have as much marbling in the steak and loin as his Angus or Hereford contemporary. The Longhorn produces a beef that is lean and as low in cholesterol as a turkey breast. Hmmm, isn’t that what the beef industry has been trying to accomplish the last twenty years?
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. We’ll do that next time.

 And I’ll also have an exciting announcement concerning the publishing of my mystery, NO MORE BULL.

 Talk to you down the trail.

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