Tetrapod Zoology

It’s such a load of bull

Once upon a time longhorn cattle were abundant and kept by many people; in fact, they were the most abundant domestic cattle, and this breed more than any others was selected for ‘improvement’ by Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) of Leicestershire, the great pioneer of domestic cattle breeding (note that I’m talking here about English longhorn, not Texas longhorn). Prior to Bakewell’s work, cattle of both sexes had been kept together and allowed to breed as and when, but by deliberately selecting certain individuals with certain traits (he was specifically breeding cattle to increase meat yield) Bakewell fixed and exaggerated those traits that he considered desirable.

i-8dd1e9eda923e681b469105e8367c4b1-What a lot of bull.jpg

Characteristic longhorn features including down-curved, sickle-shaped horns and finching: this term refers to the white stripe that runs along the back and tail. Some people think that finching serves as a warning marking, alerting other members of the herd to the fact that some of their number are making off into cover (presumably because danger has been detected). Longhorns also tend to be brindled.

Ironically, Bakewell’s focus on the longhorn partly resulted in its decline in popularity (mostly because the cross-breeding techniques pioneered on this breed could then be used in a more perfected state on other breeds, most notably the shorthorn), and by the 1950s it was rare and in danger of extinction. The good news is that this has been reversed in recent years, and the breed now enjoys great popularity. Not only do they produce a lean meat, they calve easily, are long-lived, and are surprisingly docile. They also look awesome. The picture here is a bronze statue of one you can see in Oxford, just opposite the train station. After walking past it many times I decided on my last visit to take a photo. Unfortunately I know nothing about it nor why it’s there. Let me know if you do. I hope it is meant to be a longhorn, otherwise this post is going to look very silly.

Comments

  1. #1 Russell
    July 18, 2008

    Say, what? This is a longhorn: here.

  2. #2 Darren Naish
    July 18, 2008

    No, that’s a Texas longhorn.

  3. #3 James
    July 18, 2008

    Russell’s photo demonstrates why the old Texas cowboys had such respect for the Longhorn cattle. It also illustrates why the Univisity Of Texas Longhorns use the cheer: “Hook’um Horns”. Very dangerous animal (if not tamed).

  4. #4 R.A.W.
    July 18, 2008

    Texas longhorns don’t tame easily either; they’re tough and mean.

    That being why they could live out in Texas without much human assistance for so many years. They’re the descendants of feral cattle, and it shows.

  5. #5 Mo Hassan
    July 18, 2008

    I think I know why that bull is there, but I can’t remember! I only found out last week… nothing stays in my brain anymore unless it has something to do with tetrapod nomenclature. Sorry for the useless comment!

  6. #6 AV
    July 18, 2008

    Googling suggests it may be the Oxford Ox, by Olivia Musgrave.

  7. #7 Darren Naish
    July 18, 2008

    Yes, thanks: it is indeed Olivia Musgrave’s Ox piece, I think commissioned by the Said Business School. Oxford has another statue of a bull: it’s at Kassam Stadium, which I think is where they play a game called foote-ball.

  8. #8 Rob W
    July 18, 2008

    “Texas longhorns don’t tame easily either; they’re tough and mean.

    That being why they could live out in Texas without much human assistance for so many years. They’re the descendants of feral cattle, and it shows.”

    Being a native Texan I can safely say this is true of the the humans as well as cattle here. Except maybe the part about being descendants from feral cattle, except I know some people would argue that about us as well :)

  9. #9 Jim Thomerson
    July 19, 2008

    Texas longhorns are fairly common. Neighbor down the road has them and characterizes them as “sweet”. I’ve heard first hand stories of a heavily pregnant female clearing a 5-ft high fence with ease. I’ve been told there is not as much demand for the meat as you might expect.

  10. #10 Tengu
    July 20, 2008

    http://www.chew.hu/grey_cattle_take_in_budapest_o.html

    Here you are, big, docile, lots of power for little hay, any colour as long as it is grey.

    As draught animals, oxen are superior to horses.

    There was a german run farm near here between the wars, they had oxen, they took then to the farrier for shoeing, and he slapped horse shoes on them.
    Of course these were shed before the animals got out the gate.
    Later the smith realised he had to make separate shoes for each half of the oxs hoof…

    The Saxons used oxen, (there is a dew pond on top of Milk hill called `Oxen mere` mentioned in documents of that era) but the practice died out mostly.

    This is why so many modern GB coos are continental breeds, they were bred for muscle rather than milk, and give leaner meat so prized by british housewives.

    Me, I love the taste of beef fat…

  11. #11 Jenny Islander
    July 21, 2008

    I live where even tough, long-horned cattle tend to lose calves to bears. Local ranchers prefer bison.

    One rancher has been experimenting with yaks. Apparently the yaks can make the bixon move over.

  12. #12 Steve Bodio
    July 21, 2008

    There are a fair amount of longhorns around here (New Mexico) and my impression is that they are becoming more common as demand for grass- fed lean beef increases.

    They can be aggressive (or defensive) — I am pretty wary of getting near them as they DON’T back down.

    Jenny– Montana? Alaska? Tell us more!

  13. #13 Luna_the_cat
    July 26, 2008

    Jenny — one of our neighbours also experimented with bison for a while (Colorado) — but the experiment got abandoned when one of his bulls went berserk (I still don’t know why) and took off across the neighbouring ranches — killed another bull, took down any fence in its way, got into a paddock and gored two horses (one had to be killed, the other survived with some expensive vet work), and had got into a cluster of houses and was being a danger to humans. This was the point at which everyone discovered that no-one around had a rifle powerful enough to take it down, even the sheriff. They had to resort to telling everyone to stay indoors and scattering piles of drugged grain around everywhere until it finally calmed down enough to eat and pass out. (THEN they could shoot it, through the eye at point blank range.)

    I would say, not something to treat lightly. I don’t think our neighbour was prepared to deal with the fact that they are not truly domesticates at all, and are pretty damn powerful animals. And yaks make them give ground, you say? Hm, maybe the bison just freak at how weird those things look. ;-D