Choose the Right Herd Sire to Lead Your Longhorn "Company"

By Larry P. Smith

In every organization, there is one individual who takes the lead, is the driving force behind the company and exerts more influence throughout than any other. This is the role played by your herd sire in your herd of Texas Longhorns. No other single factor affects the quality of your calf crop in marketability, or the ultimate bottom line more than the selection of a herd sire.

Your cowherd is your factory or manufacturing plant. It is a fairly stable item that takes years of improvement to change. The selection of your herd sire can either improve the quality of your entire factory's production or it can drastically reduce the quality of your output. He is the Chairman of the Board. He dictates the policy, makes the decisions that affect your profitability and is your spokesman.

Bull Anatomy DiagramThis Herd Sire edition of Longhorn Drover features many ads extolling the virtues of individual herd sires, flattering photographs, and pedigrees. This is as it should be. We must advertise and promote our product. We must present it in the best light and try to stimulate interest in our herds, our programs and the offspring that we sell to create our incomes.

The Texas Longhorn, by most standards, is a maternal breed. In other words, the cow has more impact or influence on the offspring than its sire. The Texas Longhorn cow is an easy calver. She forages well and passes on a natural resistance to disease and parasites to her calves—she is a babysitter.

How then, or why, is the bull so important? Because he is the sire of the entire herd, not just one calf!

Let's get into specifics and discuss what actually constitutes a good herd bull, or what you should look for in selecting the chairman of your board. First of all, we must all agree that Texas Longhorn bulls come in all shapes and sizes. This is good, and it is not to say that one is better than the other. What it does say is that you have the option to select the style or pattern that best fits your program.

In the beginning, the Texas Longhorn was a creature of nature, fashioned by generations of hardship and survival o the fittest. If you program is to preserve and perpetuate this American original, then you must adhere to strict guidelines or functional efficiency, natural athletic ability and an inborn tenacity for survival and perpetuity. Sound feet and legs are of utmost importance. Angular shape with no protruding muscles—except for a masculine crest at the top of the shoulders—is essential for maintaining calving ease and fluidity of movement.

A calm disposition is a desirable trait, but don't mind a little wariness. This ensures the survival trait and the intelligence necessary to protect himself and the herd from predators.

What do we want to avoid in a herd sire is extreme nervousness or bad temperament, such as an animal that runs when approached. This includes the bull that would run in either direction—either away from you, or especially if he runs at you. This is not a characteristic of the Texas Longhorn breed. It is a characteristic of an individual of any breed that should be castrated and not allowed to sire offspring in a purebred herd. It is a heritable trail.

Color is no object. Many breeders worry about white spots or inconsistent color patterns when they should be concerned about real economic traits rather than created ones. We may created or be subjected to a preference for a color pattern that becomes an economic consideration, but the true Longhorn couldn't care less what color he is. Mother nature doesn't care either. She produces browns, blacks, reds, whites and even grullas, along with many other shades and infinite combinations that give the Longhorn its unique beauty and individuality.

If you are among the many breeders of Texas Longhorns who have chosen to produce offspring for a particular market, then you may rightfully have different criteria for selecting your herd sire. However, you must remember that you will always be dependent upon the producer of the typical Texas Longhorn to replenish your seed stock, if you stray too far from the well. In the late 1800's, ranchers nearly bred the Texas Longhorn out of existence in their search for better beef and their quest for the dollar. Are we not smarter than that today, more than 100 years later? I pray that we are and I commend those of you who cling tenaciously to the Texas Longhorn of the past. It is also the Texas Longhorn of the future.

But let's look at the characteristics of a Texas Longhorn bull that can contribute to a commercial beef producing operation through siring calves with a little more vigor, growth-ability and desirable carcass traits. Meat is muscle and long muscle is preferable to short, or extreme mass. So long as we can retain calving ease and fluidity of movement, we can increase skeletal and muscular development. A bull that will produce a calf that weans at a heavier weight, or enter the feedlot at an earlier age, is worth a premium over his lesser counterpart in a strictly commercial operation.

You have to make the decision whether you will be a seed stock producer for other Texas Longhorn breeders, or whether your market and skills are best suited to supply bulls to commercial cattle producers. The opportunities are endless and there is always a market for a product that is at the top of its class. Whatever you choose to breed or produce, make it the best you know how and you won't be disappointed.

Buy the best bull that you can find that fits the scheme of your operation. Before you start shopping, decide on the pedigree or family that has a record of producing your ideal. Get a mental picture of the animal you are looking for so that when you see him, you will know that he is the one. And don't be talked into changing your mind by a well-meaning friend or a fast-talking salesman.

There have been precious few "master breeders" of the various breeds of cattle, but they all have had a common trait—they knew what they wanted. They probably didn't care whether anyone else liked it or not, and they bred it with a tenacity that would make a Texas Longhorn proud. They had their own computer in their head and in their heart. It was programmed and cold not be invaded by new fads or fancies that seemed good at the time. To be a "master breeder," you must develop a plan, build an outstanding herd or top females and then select a "Chairman of the Board" that will produce a product that is superior to its dam. It's a tall order, but it can be done. It has been done before and it will be done again. Mother Nature did it, a few "master breeders" have done it and you can do it too. Good luck!