Like most iconic symbols of the American West, the Texas Longhorn almost ceased to exist in the early 1900s. The Longhorn began its life as escaped cattle from Spanish explorers in the 1500s. By the 1800s the Spanish criollo stock were mixing with the English cattle belonging to early settlers. The result was a lean, long legged animal with long horns and a variety of colors. By the beginning of the Civil War, the half-wild Texas longhorns had emerged as a recognizable type.
After the Civil War the west was overrun with cattle and no local markets for them. There was a ready labor force in decommissioned soldiers and railroads hundreds of miles away that lead to beef markets in the North. The solution as to how to get to the rail heads was solved by men like Goodnight, Loving, and Chisom and the brief era of the cattle drive began.
During the roughly three decades of the cattle drives, over 10 million cattle were moved. The cattle drives stamped the character of the west, became the economic base of the region, made the Longhorn historic, and glorified the cowboy as an American tradition.
The decline of the Texas Longhorn was caused by many factors, mostly relating to the rapidly changing face of the new nation. To preserve the purity of the Texas Longhorn breed, the U.S. Forest Service set up the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge herd in Oklahoma. Through generations of culling, blood typing, and exhaustive documentation, the Wichita Refuge has re-established and maintained a pure Texas Longhorn herd. After it’s near extinction, the Longhorn never really re-asserted itself as a commercial meat animal. America’s taste had changed and now wanted red meat with a higher fat content and the constantly growing population needed cattle that matured faster than the Longhorn did. But the popularity of the Longhorn continued to be strong. Now that their bloodlines were traceable, Longhorns could be bred with genetically predictable results and a profitable show ring circuit developed.
Not all the successful Longhorn ranches are in Texas. Colorado also has its place in the history of the Texas Longhorn. We have a very successful Longhorn ranch in Colorado. The Searle Ranch is owned by Stan Searle, managed by Gary Lake, and located in Ellicott, which is 16 miles due east of Colorado Springs. “We are sitting on a spot where about eight miles west of here, Charlie Goodnight and Oliver Loving brought thousands of head of Longhorn cattle out of the Panhandle of Texas on the Goodnight-Loving Trail right through here, going to the Denver Stockyards and on to Cheyenne for the railways,” said Gary Lake.
Owner, Stan Searle and Manager, Gary Lake have spent over 30 years designing a genetic plan that has resulted in unsurpassed color, horn growth, meat quality and disposition in the Searle Ranch herd. Their slogan, “Predictable Genetics ... The Foundation for Success!,” is the cornerstone of their achievement. Genetics starts with herd sires and Searle Ranch has two of the best in Winchester and Top Caliber. Winchester is by Gizmo, a son of the one and only, Zhivago, and out of Sadie Sam. With a tip to tip horn width of 72-inches and weighing well over a ton, this is one of the premier herd sires in the Longhorn breed today.
Top Caliber is a five year old bull that is in a class by himself. Top Caliber is jointly owned by a six member closed partnership and was purchased for $225,000. Top Caliber was born in Wheatland, Wyoming, on the Magill Ranch. His sire was Hunts Command Respect, which is currently the leading sire of bulls with a horn length over 70 inches. His dam, Hashbrown, has a pedigree that is packed with big horned ancestry. Top Caliber is a two-time World Champion, and at 86 inches, has the longest horn measurement in history.
You may have already seen some of the Searle Ranch Longhorns and not realized it. Everyone knows a Longhorn when they see one and because of the gentle disposition of the breed, it has become a favorite element of parades. The Searle Ranch Longhorns have been driven down 17th Street in Denver to kick off the National Western Stock Show, and through downtown Colorado Springs as part of the Ride for the Brand Ranch Rodeo celebration. “The animals that we use for parades are not specially trained. All of our cattle are gentle. If we get one that is not, they don’t stay long. We just use whatever we catch up that day,” said Searle Ranch manager, Gary Lake.
Two years ago, the Searle ranch decided to explore the growing consumer demand for leaner beef. Rather than sell their culls at the sale barn, the ranch “began to package and sell some USDA stamped beef and we could not find enough animals to butcher that year,” said Gary Lake. “It quickly became more of a business than we expected. We are up to 30 or 40 head this year. Now we are looking at ways to make it a little more efficient.”
“We sell only ranch raised, grass finished, certified, pure Texas Longhorn beef that has been raised free of antibiotic feeding, hormones, steroids or growth implants,” said Gary Lake. “We can advertise, with data, that grass fed Texas Longhorn Beef is lower in cholesterol than white meat chicken.
Even with all of its success in other areas, the Searle ranch is still in the business of selling cattle. “The only true American cattle breed is the Texas Longhorn, everything else is pretty much an import. Texas Longhorns were the mainstay of the cattle industry for hundreds of years. The nostalgia, the beautiful color, the massive horns and the gentle disposition make them a natural for someone wanting to get into the business,” said Gary Lake. “They don’t have calving problems. They don’t have predator problems. Cows have better browse utilization and they have less disease. You never see a Longhorn with pinkeye. These are things that are just not present in the Longhorn breed.”
“Longhorns are maintenance free cattle. Anyone can own one. They are popular because of their history and massive horns, and nothing creates more magic in the pasture than a majestic Longhorn cow or steer,” said Gary Lake. ❖
“The only true American cattle breed is the Texas Longhorn, everything else
is pretty much
~ Gary Lake,
herd manager of Searle Ranch