Enabling Your Longhorns to Thrive

“Our Longhorns are a breed with historical resistance and hardiness. Do they
still have it? Do we know? Do we care? With availability of better nutrition,
genetics, and health programs, instead of depending on their hardiness and letting
them SURVIVE, our programs should be planned to help them THRIVE. Anything
less would be a disservice to our great Longhorn breed.”

Roger Cole DVM

No one disagrees with the fact that the early Longhorns that were running wild in rough territory were survivors, even when resources were scarce. In today’s world, however, cattle are confined by man and not free to do whatever it takes to survive, nor should they need to. We reached out to two veterinarians who are also Longhorn breeders to find out what we should expect to be required to keep today’s Longhorn healthy and fit.

Darlene Aldridge, DVM spent her veterinary career in small animals, but once she bought her first Longhorn
cow from YO Ranch in 1995 she was addicted. “I do not profess to be a large animal veterinarian as I have never practiced as one, I have only worked on my own herd, but I have taken extensive continuing education in bovine medicine concentrating on courses in reproductive medicine and embryo transfer. In addition, I have taken
continuing education courses in herd health management, nutrition, Johnes disease, Bovine Viral diarrhea, Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis, Clostridial diseases, Brucellosis, and many other common diseases of cattle.”

Aldridge continues, “When I first started raising Texas Longhorns, I do not think many breeders were very concerned with vaccinating their cattle. When I would inquire about vaccinations on cattle I bought the answer was always ‘She had her calfhood vaccination’, meaning her Brucellosis vaccination. Even now some breeders vaccinate calves but do not vaccinate adult cattle. But I think this is important because it keeps the antibodies high in the dam so that she has high antibodies in her colostrum for her calf and protection for herself when new cattle come into her herd.”

Roger Cole, DVM is newer to owning registered Texas Longhorns, but has 46 years of veterinary experience
and has spent five or six years attending shows and visiting with Longhorn breeders around the country. “Like
many, my first introduction to the Longhorn breed was by watching ‘Rawhide’. This program featured a small
framed athletic critter that could outrun the Indians and thunderstorms and still arrive In Dodge City hundreds of miles away with at least part of the herd. Their hardiness developed as a way of survival.”

But as for the newer generations of Texas Longhorns? Cole puts it very simply, “Our historically hardy Longhorn is still a cow, belonging to the Bovine species. As such, our hardy cow is susceptible to all the species-specific viruses and bacteria of the Bovine. If it’s a Bovine, it’s a cow, if it’s a cow it gets cow diseases.

In my 46 Years of veterinary practice and 5 or 6 years of having Registered Longhorns, I get in on the ground level with breeders and owners involved with ALL cattle breeds. Foot Rot, Pink Eye, Blackleg, Lepto, Johnes, BVD, Leukemia, and others all show up , even in the Longhorns – except not mine ….that would be bad for business….” But seriously, adds Cole, “We as progressive Longhorn owners have available to us excellent up-to-date health programs for our herds. Your local veterinarians are your source for vaccination and parasite control programs suitable for your area – use them.”

Aldridge concurs, “If your herd were completely isolated from other cattle in every way, no neighboring cattle, no new cattle introduced into the herd you might get away without vaccinating. But why take that chance. You have invested a lot of time, money and dare I say it, love, in your cattle. So, in my opinion, protect them as best you can with proper vaccinations and deworming. A good herd health program really pays off in the long run.”

“I do believe when the Texas Longhorns were roaming free and not exposed to a lot of other cattle, they developed a hardiness because they had to survive on their own,” continues Aldridge. “But I have also heard stories of naïve (unexposed, unvaccinated, and therefore not resistant) herds of Texas Longhorns being exposed to a disease with terrible consequences.”

“Also,” adds Cole, “do yourself and your cattle a favor and invest in adequate working facilities. You are more apt to check a foot or look at an eye instead of letting it go for a few days. This is not only a safety and efficiency issue but also scores points with your veterinarian.”

So what has contributed to the need for extra care in today’s Longhorns? Mainly the environment they’re now living in. Smaller acreages, neighboring cattle, and owners who may have entered into livestock ownership for the first time not understanding how much space or feed cattle can require. Overstocking is a big issue on today’s smaller properties.

“I think small acreages and greater concentrations of livestock present problems that some new breeders are not ready to deal with. It is so easy to get “hooked” on these cattle and absolutely fall in love with them. We all know that,” explains Aldridge. “So many times, when a new breeder should buy three, they buy five or six and then the babies come along and they also have a horse, two donkeys, maybe a llama on the small acreage. They forget that the house, drives, pens, barns, stock tank and wooded area cannot be grazed. So now the place is really too small for the number of animals, there is no grass, hay is at a premium, the cows are losing weight and when the babies are born they are underweight and the cows do not milk well to feed the calves. There are piles of manure everywhere and the cattle are existing on round bales. The cows can reinfest themselves and their calves with parasites and if one of them is carrying
a disease the means of spread is very great.”

She continues, “To compound this problem new breeders commonly do not have a market for their cattle or have kids that have fallen in love with certain ones and cannot sell them for sentimental reasons. So their feed and hay bill is very high and raising the cattle sometimes becomes something that is not as much fun as it should be.”

Aldridge suggests, “I think breeders who sell to first-time buyers should try to find out as much about their customer’s circumstances and offer advice and sell appropriately. I have advised some new owners to buy steers instead of heifers when I thought they would not have the space to raise animals on the space they have. And they have been very happy with that decision.”

For private treaty sales and the sale ring as well, more information is starting to be available to buyers. “Texas Longhorns are a very long-lived breed as opposed to other commercial cattle and tend to move around from herd to herd quite a bit. Just look at the number of sales that are conducted across the country throughout the year in addition to the number of private treaty sales that take place every day. In my mind these cattle should be protected and current on vaccinations,“ suggests Aldridge.

She continues, “Recently it has become an accepted practice for animals consigned to sales to be tested for Johnes and often BVD. Often the announcer will announce that the animal in the ring is current on all vaccinations. I think this is an excellent practice.”

Another area where people tend to treat Longhorns differently from other beef breeds? Both veterinarians
agree – nutrition and body condition. There is a misconception that if it’s not bony and coarse it must not
be a Texas Longhorn.

“Attending Shows and visiting with Longhorn breeders around the country, I encounter operations with weak or absent nutrition programs,” Cole says. “Sometimes owners take the hardiness issue too seriously and their cattle tend to look like the ‘Rawhide’ critters. It is always said ‘you can’t starve a profit out of a cow herd’. “With increased marketing efforts promoting our healthy Longhorn beef, nutrition is more important than ever – the Longhorn is a BEEF animal and is expected to produce more product per unit if we are to compete with other popular breeds. Our genotype and phenotype are taking a more modern turn from the early critter on ‘Rawhide’. We can see this at our breed futurities that showcase all the Longhorn qualities of color, horn, and lately more frame and structure. Entries sometimes are over-conditioned showing that the Longhorn will finish out for freezer beef .”

Aldridge emphasizes the importance of body scoring, “I think it is a good idea for owners to learn to body score their cattle so they can know if the cattle are underweight. Next, they need to look for the cause of the lack of body condition. Are they getting enough to eat? This can often be a problem with overgrazed pastures. Do they have parasites, another problem that can occur with over-grazing? There are many good articles on the web about body-scoring cattle. It is a good idea to become familiar with them.”

Resources abound with detailed information on the care and feeding of beef cattle. Simply search the subject you want to learn about and make sure your information is on a trusted site such as an ag college resource website, many of which begin with extension or end in .edu. Trails Magazine offers back issues online for free and many states or regions offer beef cattle-specific publications which can be accessed online. Most information regarding beef cattle should prepare you to care for your Longhorn. And you can always reach out to fellow breeders that you now have healthy, fit cattle for some tips and tricks.

It is important to note that the nutritional quality of hay and pasture can vary widely even within the same geographic region. Doing forage and soil testing should be a part of your program for optimum success. Most veterinarians should also be familiar with what nutritional supplementation and vaccinations are most needed in your area. They are there to help, as is your local extension agent. The better nutrition your cattle get, the healthier and more productive they can be.

For more great health articles visit www.tlbaa.org/trails/trails-archive for back issues of Trails Magazine.