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A Couple's Venture Into Raising Longhorns
Bill and Sandy Martin were looking for lawn mowers and ended up in the cattle business. It’s a “long” story. Longhorns, that is. “For some of these big guys, you probably need a wide-load permit just to haul them down the road,” says Bill, with a grin. He got into the breed when he was looking for animals to take care of some grass. “I heard that longhorns were smart and easy to take care of since they were virtually wild cattle for centuries. Well, now we’re in the longhorn business!”
Bill and Sandy own one ranch near Wellington, Texas, and a second property 20 miles away in Childress County with 160 acres of pasture. Both properties are stitched with miles of fencing, pens, cross fencing, and 150 gates, enabling the couple to rotational-graze their herd of 95 Texas longhorn cows and five bulls. They have working corrals at both places.
Longhorns are a dual-purpose animal, says Sandy. “You’ve got to select them for the job you want them to do: freezer animal or a pasture pretty. My goal is to put out a good-looking animal – one that’s pleasing to the eye – and to get some quality beef in the process,” she says.
The meat from a longhorn is similar to meat from a deer or an elk, says Bill. It is low in fat and cholesterol. “The longhorn is America’s original grass-fed beef,” he says.
Sandy moves among the monstrous beasts, their horns swaying from side to side, with no more concern than if she were strolling through a pen of chickens. “These longhorns are just plain intelligent,” she says. “You can talk to them like they were a horse. Most times, they will jump right into a trailer to go for a ride.”
“They’re a thinking animal,” Bill adds. “They have personalities.”
Nature made the longhorn savvy and lean over the 600 years since the first animals were introduced to North America by Spanish explorers. The hard hooves, long legs, and lethal horns, combined with natural intelligence, have enabled the breed to survive and prosper. They keep predators at bay and travel long distances for water and grazing, using low-quality forages when necessary.
Bill and Sandy started their herd with two bred cows with calves at their side. Others were added as the couple researched pedigrees to breed either for beef or for horn characteristics.
“We’re all about chasing horns,” Sandy says, “as well as good body styles.” The horn growth rate is amazing, she says. “We like them to get 30 inches tip to tip by the end of the first year. Our bull calves have little nubs growing on their heads the first few days after they’re born.” The horns grow from 1 to 3 inches a month when they’re young. The Martins’ senior herd sire, BBQ, has a horn spread of more than 95 inches.
A skull and horns can bring $450 to $2,000 for decoration, and the beautiful multicolored hides are made into chairs, couches, and other furniture.
Longhorns get little respect from traditional beef cattle markets, Sandy says, even though calves gain 2 pounds per day. “We were selling a few animals and getting canner and cutter prices, and then we were discounted from that rate for ears, horns, colors, and spots,” she says.
For that reason, the Martins began selling USDA-inspected Texas longhorn beef at farmers markets in Oklahoma as well as from a retail building on their Wellington ranch. They sell frozen, vacuum-packed ground beef, steaks, smoked sausages, and related cuts.