The Wild History of the Texas Longhorn | HowStuffWorks

Longhorn cattle are famous for their huge horns, which can be six feet (almost 2 meters) from tip to tip. Sometimes known as Texas longhorns, the breed developed on the range in Northern Mexico and Texas. 

The cattle from which the longhorns developed were brought from Spain to the Americas in the early 1500s, first to Hispaniola and then to Mexico. Over time, a vigorous ranching economy developed in Mexico’s north. Some of the stock escaped and went wild. 

Longhorns developed from the original breeds. They came to be a perfect fit for the rangelands. They are hardy, and can survive bitter cold and intense heat. Large herds grew in Texas, and when Americans settled in Texas, they learned from Mexican ranchers how to handle Longhorn cattle. 

During the American Civil War, Texas longhorns escaped from ranches and multiplied to large numbers, adding to the feral population. Following the war, Texas ranching culture rapidly expanded across the West, based on longhorns. They are the cattle that made up the famous cattle drives from Texas up to the railheads in Kansas.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, longhorns were replaced by other cattle breeds less tolerant of stress but that could put on weight much more quickly, and were therefore more profitable. Longhorns nearly went extinct, but in the late 1920s some were saved by the US Forest Service. Today there is increasing interest in crossing Longhorns with other breeds to develop new breeds of cattle more tolerant of changing climate.

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