Most folks have seen them in Westerns — imagine the scene with dramatic music where a herd of Texas Longhorns is driven across a plain.
The animals are considered icons of the state of Texas. You don’t expect to see them grazing on thick, lush pastures in eastern North Carolina, and you wouldn’t expect them to be the basis of a cattle business started by a female Tarheel and a man from New Jersey.
“My wife [Kristi] has been involved in Longhorns since 1988,” says Dan Grove, of Grove Cattle Co. in Stanhope, N.C. “When I was younger, I was involved in team roping, which features Longhorns.”
• Hamburger from Texas Longhorns routinely tests out at 95% lean.
• The animals can be sold for meat or used in rodeo-style events.
• Texas Longhorns are a hardy breed and take well to being grass-fed.
Dan’s accent left him a long time ago, and the Groves could easily pass as ranchers from the Southwest. They maintain about a 40-head herd and also have 13 horses. During warmer weather, the herd is spread out over six different pastures, and then brought onto the family homestead for the winter.
“We started getting into the breeding, and there is a good market for breeding stock,” Dan says. “Then, we started raising them for beef. The beef is real lean, lower in fat and calories than most other cattle. The hamburger tests out at 95% lean. That’s just the genetics of the animal.”
Leaner is healthier
According to the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America, a 3.5-ounce serving of Texas Longhorn beef has 140 calories, 25.5 grams of protein, 3.7 grams of fat and 61.5 grams of cholesterol. White-meat chicken has more calories, protein, fat and cholesterol by comparison — and lean ground beef has almost twice the calories and nearly six times the fat.
“Some of our customers, who have been told by their doctors ‘No more red meat,’ have taken the informational flyers to their doctors, and this beef has passed [with the doctor’s OK],” Dan says.
The Groves add that other breeds of cattle look more impressive in the stockyard and have much better marketing programs. But he stands by what is on the other side of the hide.
“Longhorns generally look skinnier than Angus, but that’s the way they’re designed,” Dan says. “People tend to think the meat is going to be tough because there is so little fat. But we age the beef for 21 days after slaughter. When you age beef, you allow the bacteria to come in and break down the meat, and make it tenderer. You lose more beef this way [because of more trimming required after aging], but it is tender and has great flavor.”
The Groves also like the fact that Texas Longhorns are generally low-maintenance, especially during calving.
“They have smaller calves, and because they are a more narrow-shoulder cow, you don’t generally have calving problems,” Dan says. “Since Kristi started with them in 1988, we’ve never had to ‘pull’ a calf. You just can’t find any other breed that can brag about that.”
The couple formed the Grove Cattle Co. just two years ago. They raise their Texas Longhorns without growth hormones, steroids or what Dan calls “unnecessary antibiotics.”
“They take a little longer to mature that way and get their weight up,” he says. “But they are grass-fed and then finished the last 90 days on our own feed mix.”
A history of hardiness
The Groves add that Longhorns are low-maintenance due to their history. They originated from Spanish breeds brought over and raised in the American Southwest. Noting that the diet of cattle in that part of the country is much different than in the Midwest or Southeast, Dan says longhorns adapted to survive. Grove Cattle Co. has leased animals from their herds to help clear land. They’re also considered docile, despite the imposing horns; the Groves have a “pet” that they’ve even saddle-broken, which is not unusual with the breed.
For now, the Groves are selling exclusively off the farm, and not selling to restaurants or shipping beef. They say the demand from commercial buyers is almost exclusively for steaks, and there’s only so many of those to go around.
They sell packaged and labeled quarters for $4.50 a pound, and hamburger for $4 a pound. They use two different slaughterhouses, with one mostly for customers who prefer to buy the live animal. They have to get a waiver from the state when they slaughter, because they get the skulls back — a part which can be very valuable.
The market is strong for skulls, or for Texas Longhorn heads that have been prepared by a taxidermist. Sales are generally determined by the point-to-point measurements of the horns, although the twisted horns of some also have appeal.
“Once they measure over 70 inches, you can just about name your price,” Dan says.The diversity of the animal, as far as markets go, allow the Groves to stretch their sales.
“Most commercial cattle have one market,” Dan says. “Longhorns have several; there is breeding stock, beef, roping stock, sales to folks who want to keep an unusual breed on their property, or just enjoy the looks of the cattle and the skulls. There are several niche markets with Texas Longhorns.”
In live-animal sales, roper cattle begin at about $350, with trophy-size heifers starting at $500 and escalating quickly. All Grove Cattle Co. cattle are purebred and registered with the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America. The couple has expansion plans, but it is not necessarily about the numbers. With the land they own being limited, right now they are dependent on leasing pasture.
“We want to upgrade the quality more than the quantity,” Kristi says.
“We are getting into the AI [artificial insemination] and starting to use embryo transfers. We want good cattle, not just a lot of cattle,” Dan adds. “This is a good way to put the lesser-quality heifers to work and a way to find out if the heifers that are on the borderline are worth keeping or not.”
Brantley writes from Nash County, N.C.