Habitat refers to an environment or an ecological area that a specific animal inhabits. For Texas longhorn cattle, habitat stretches far and wide across North America. The breed developed its hardiness on open ranges from the sixteenth century through the cattle drives of the late nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, the breed nearly died out, then rebounded. The Texas longhorn is characterized by hardiness and adaptability to habitat.
Spanish explorers and missionaries brought longhorn cattle to North America. Anglo-American pioneers traveling west brought domesticated English cattle. Native American peoples raided cattle from both groups and developed breeding strains. Cattle escaped and interbred. Wild cattle claimed a habitat from two Texas rivers, the Rio Grande and the Nueces, in the 1830s. These wild creatures, called mustang or Spanish cattle, were captured, rustled and otherwise removed by cowboys to ranges and then herded over land and through swamps to New Orleans markets.
With the advent of the railroad and ease of transporting faster maturing cattle without long horns, other breeds gained favor. A disease known as Texas fever killed other cattle that came in contact with hardy longhorns and the breed drew disdain. By 1900 the longhorn, subject to crossbreeding practices, was rare. A federal program initiated as early as the late 1920s gave refuge and support to the breeding of longhorns. More than 250,000 longhorns are registered with the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America today.
Predation and Disease
Feral longhorn cattle benefited from having inherited sweeping, twisted, curved, long horns. When potential predators including coyotes, wild peccaries known as javelina, wolves, and bears approached, the cattle had a formidable defense mechanism in their horns.
Diseases and parasites in the environment affect Texas longhorns less than other breeds. The wax they have in their ears and the hair that grows on udders helps them repel lice, ticks, flies and gnats. They have resistance to foot rot and also to stress diseases common to other cattle.
Climate and Geography
Texas longhorn cattle can inhabit many types of terrain and withstand virtually all weather conditions. They can thrive in tropical climates and fare just as well in northern Canada’s deep cold winters. They inhabit Arizona’s Sonoran desert and the windswept Great Plains. Texas longhorns are bred in almost every U.S. state and Canadian province.
Texas longhorn habitat does not have to be as rich as that of other cattle breeds. Naturally, in the best of circumstances cattle should have ample high-quality grass on which to graze. Texas longhorns are efficient processors of many types of brush and grasses. They can subsist on forage not suitable for or favored by other cattle breeds including yucca, willow, mesquite and other brittle, coarse brush. They have even been known to consume tansy ragwort without harm. This noxious weed primarily grows in the Northwest and is toxic to other cattle breeds.
To ranchers, the benefits of the Texas longhorn habitat are many. Parasites and the potential for disease may exist in the habitat, but the breed has resistance. Water may not be abundant, but the breed can survive better than other breeds between watering opportunities. Grass for grazing may not be plentiful, but the longhorn can make do with coarse scrub. Other cattle may have difficulty with calving, but Texas longhorns drop calves dependably. These factors combine to mean lower costs for the rancher and more cattle sustained on less land.