There are many enduring symbols of the Old West, but none are quite as distinctive as the Texas Longhorn. There is little argument that the early settlers needed Texas Longhorn cows and Texas Longhorn bulls by their side as they moved into the American West.
Unlike many other breeds of cattle, Texas Longhorns were able to survive on even the sparsest of vegetation, helping them make it through the harsh conditions that so often prevailed in the earliest days of the unsettled west. That legendary hardiness helped this unique animal gain a foothold in the new land.
Their horns played an important role in helping them survive predators in the wild before the days of fenced pastures and, even now, help chase coyotes and mountain lions away from their babies. Moreover, their ability to continue to survive and thrive has recently led to resurgence in the breed.
From hobby farmers to commercial breeders, cattle enthusiasts are taking a second look at the diversity of the Texas Longhorn. If you are new to Texas Longhorn breeding, you will obviously want to choose your foundation stock based on their most popular qualities.
While Longhorn bulls have many distinctive and popular qualities, it is those huge horns that really stick out – quite literally. But what makes those bull horns so enormous, and what factors should you look for when making your own Texas Longhorn purchasing decisions?
Whether you are ready to start your own herd or just curious about the nature of Texas Longhorns, here are some key things you need to know:
1. Horn Length Timeline
For the most part, Texas Longhorn bull horns will grow very well when the animal is 6 to 36 months of age, at which time, the horns will begin to slow down in growth somewhat. By the time the Texas Longhorn bull has reached the age of 24 months, the fastest phase of horn growth will have ended.
Sometimes, when the animal reaches 24-30 months and he becomes sexually active, the bull may lose tip to tip length because he may start wearing the ends of his horns off from digging in the ground or fighting trees in his pasture. The Texas Longhorn bull remains an impressive animal with his broad head, massive neck, thick shoulders, and muscular body.
It is also important to note that different bloodlines of Texas Longhorn bulls will grow their horns differently, and that the rate of growth can vary widely.
2. How to Measure Horn Length
Texas Longhorns are measured for competition in three ways and these measurements are taken very seriously. There are three horn measurements taken at the TLBAA Horn Showcase for competition. These measurements are accurately described and demonstrated in this video.
The three measurements are:
- Tip to tip
- Total horn
- Composite – the total addition of tip to tip, total horn, and the circumference of both base measurements.
The most popular horn measurement—and the one most commonly referred to for comparison—is the tip to tip measurement. That measurement is gathered by placing one end of the metal tape measure firmly against one tip of the horn, then stretching it carefully to the other side of the horn spread, all while being careful not to bend the tape in the gate or on the head of the animal.
If you are planning to start your own herd, you will want to get an accurate assessment of the horn length of any animal you purchase. Determining the length of horn at a glance can sometimes be deceiving, so always ask for accurate and up-to-date measurements.
Since horn length is one of the most important factors in determining the value of a Texas Longhorn, I think you should be wary of breeders who say they don’t measure their animals or don’t have current measurements to show you. Even if you don’t start with the most expensive cattle with very long horns, measurements on any animal you buy will help you determine how you are progressing with your breeding program.
3. Cows vs. Bulls Horn Length
It is easy to focus on the bull when assessing Texas Longhorns, but the quality of a Texas Longhorn cow can be equally critical. After all, the Texas Longhorn cows you choose will be the foundation of your herd, and their genetics will directly influence the size of the horns you can expect in their offspring.
As you look at Texas Longhorn cows for sale and make your purchasing decisions, keep in mind that the horn growth varies between cows and bulls. Some Texas Longhorn cows may have an emphasis on tip to tip growth while others will carry more of a total horn influence. Some heifers that start with a higher shaped horn may have horns that roll over and back at the tips and gain a lot of tip to tip growth later in life—so don’t count them out early! Also be aware that some family lines will gain horn growth slower and not really hit their good growth period until ages two to three. A cow will grow horn her whole life, but she will gain most of it in her first six to seven years.
Horn circumference, commonly referred to as “base,” has really changed over the years. Many top breeding programs, including Star Creek Ranch, have really focused on increasing base in their respective programs. Just as tip to tip can be increased by breeding longer-horned individuals to longer horned, base can also be increased by focusing on that trait.
Starbase Commander, premier herd sire at Star Creek Ranch, is famous from adding base to the horns of his offspring. Typically a Texas Longhorn bull will have more base to his horns than a cow will have to her horns. But overall base within the industry has increased in the last ten to twelve years. And while there may be a little resistance to this change, I believe as we grow more and more, bulls and cows with 90”+ tip to tip will need more base to balance those majestic horns.
4. Things to Consider When Predicting Horn Length
When looking at Texas Longhorn cattle for sale, you need to consider a number of factors, including the genetic health of the bloodline, the quality of the herd sires, health of the entire stock, and the reputation of the breeder. As you might expect, the length and size of the horns are a direct reflection of the health of the animal, and there are no shortcuts to success. Attention to good nutrition and a complete mineral program are very important factors in growing horn to its greatest potential.
Learn More About Texas Longhorns!
For lovers of classic cattle breeds, nothing quite compares to the amazing Texas Longhorn. This iconic breed of cattle helped settle the American West, and Texas Longhorn bulls and cows are still grazing pastures from coast to coast.
Now that you know a bit more about these wonderful cattle and their stunning horns, you can start building your own unique Texas Longhorn herd. Contact Star Creek Ranch to get started today!