Longhorn of the Vanities

How hardy Texas cattle became prestige pets for the rich and nostalgic

Lee doesn't feed the 45 longhorns, since they can browse for themselves, and consequently hasn't seen some cows all year. They'll reappear, or he'll find a skull like he did recently of a cow that turned up missing in the count two years ago.

Although his 45 longhorns are registered, Lee dropped out of the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America. "I do not hold with folks who are selecting forbeef," he explains. "I think they've changed the breed. They're trying to generate income. I'm just trying to preserve the breed."

Now he doesn't even know if he wants to do that. Jernigan no longer has a longhorn bull, and, for the past few years, he's been breeding the purebred cows to his commercial bulls.

So far, the beef-'em-up program hasn't worked so well. Unless you run longhorn cattle, their meat is hard to come by. And not that great.

Dave Matta, who owns a Mexican restaurant in Mesa, will sometimes use hamburger from his longhorns in his dishes. You can buy longhorn steaks in a couple of specialty groceries in Dallas. And a rancher named Steve Mobley, who raises longhorns south of Big D, has marketed ground beef to some restaurants in the Lone Star State.

But Mobley didn't even handle steaks until this year, and then only after coming up with a special feed mix for the cattle. And even he admits the marbling isn't as good as that in steaks from the fatter breeds.

Altogether, longhorns seem a bit like a product for which there is as yet no real use--except, of course, as large and decorative pets.

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