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Raising Longhorns a labour of love

BROOKS, Alta. — Longhorns have a lure. Those who own them speak of it, each in different terms.

“I don’t know what it is, but they’ve got me mesmerized,” said Deb Lesyk of Double D Arena in Outlook, Sask.

“It is the kindest, most beautiful breed that I’ve ever worked with and I grew up on an Angus-Hereford-Charolais farm in Nebraska. None of those animals had the heart and the love that these guys do.”

Dean Marte of Panorama Ranch near Stauffer, Alta., put it another way.

“I like their personality. That was what intrigued me with them initially. And I’ve spent 20 some years building relationships with my cattle. Obviously, these animals are smarter than the average person. They can figure us out where we can’t figure them out.”

Walter Janvier of Watchapese Farm and Ranch at Cold Lake, Alta., started raising Longhorns for roping stock, but the breed’s other attributes continue to appeal to him.

“They eat anything and everything when it comes right down to it. Overall, I’m quite impressed with them. They’re a good, hardy breed. I like them, plus they’re nice to look at. They’ve got nice horns. They’ve all got their own characters and patterns.”

Lesyk, Marte and Janvier, along with five other Longhorn producers, brought stock to the Canadian Texas Longhorn production sale in Brooks, Alta., May 31. Eighty head of registered and commercial cattle were on offer, with a sale average of $1,157 on registered animals and $961 for others. Commercial cow-calf pairs averaged $1,381 and registered pairs averaged $1,263.

The high-selling cow went for $2,000 and the high selling bull for $1,500. The breed doesn’t typically get the prices common in other registered beef animals, noted Lesyk.

Nor do the long, lean and lank Longhorns fit the mould of typical beef cattle that populate Alberta.

Gordon Musgrove, auctioneer and CLTA president, said the breed has many uses and people have many goals when buying and raising them.

“Everybody’s got their own reason, depending on who you talk to and what time of the day,” Musgrove said.

“We’ve got sport cattle, people who raise them for sport (rodeo), we have those who raise them for their horns. We have those who raise them for their colour, and use their hides for different things.

“And meat. The USDA has proven that Longhorn beef is leaner than most any other red meat products on the market. Not only leaner, but lower in cholesterol.”

There’s also the appeal of having Longhorns in the front pasture, representatives of western heritage that hearken back to the early days of open range, big ranches and dusty cattle drives.

Marte, who has about 250 head, said Longhorns are useful in crossbreeding programs and ideal for use on first-calf heifers because smaller calves are typical.

The breed also excels at foraging in less-than-ideal conditions.

“On a bad year, a dry year, they just thin down and carry on. And then in a good year, they’re fat as pigs. They adapt to the surroundings,” said Musgrove.

Lesyk and her husband, Dwight Overlid, maintain a herd of 16 animals on 212 acres. They’ve emphasized calm temperament and colourful hides in their breeding program. Longhorns can be spotted, speckled, brindled, solid and combinations of those.

But what of the feature from which the breed takes its name?

Horns are definitely an appeal for many breeders. In the U.S., there is keen competition to raise animals with large horns and there is a measurement system similar to that used for big game animals.

The CTLA had a measurement competition for the first time last year and found that Canadian animals measured up well against those in the United States.

However, cold weather doesn’t always favour horn growth. Horns that get frozen when animals are young can grow in odd directions and shapes.

Marte explains the appeal of horns succinctly.

“It’s an ego thing, that’s what it is. Plain and simple.”

But Lesyk worries about breeding for big horns, which she said has occurred in the U.S.

“They’ve given up conformation to go for horn, and that scares me because at the end of the day you still need a cow that you can market. I still have to be able to sell beef.”

The animals adapt their behaviour to their horns. Though a chute with horizontal rather than the more typical vertical bars is preferable when handling Longhorns, they do manage to navigate. But patience on the part of handlers is required, said Lesyk.

“You can’t push a Longhorn. They’re not like other breeds. They know where their horns are. They know what they’ve got to go through. They just have to think.”

This is a rebuilding year for the CTLA. It folded in 2004 and regrouped last year. It has approached the Alberta Texas Longhorn Association about a merger but found no interest, Lesyk said.

The CTLA has affiliate status with both the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America and the International Texas Longhorn Association.

Its purpose is to recognize Texas Longhorns as a distinct breed, promote breeding practices to preserve its purity, promote public awareness of the breed’s traits and encourage people to develop and maintain herds.

The national CTLA show is scheduled July 16-20 during Westerner Days in Red Deer.

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