NOTHING defines the American Wild West more than the image of cattle with swept back horns roaming the plains.
It’s a strange feeling to drive into Gordon and Desley Davidson’s 80,000 acre property an hour north of Tambo and see the paddocks filled with cattle from movie lore.
The couple began breeding Texas Longhorn cattle at Cheshire station in 2005 as a hobby, selling cattle to rodeo groups for what’s known as time events – roping and bulldogging – and keeping a few as trophy steers.
In 2008 they decided on a change in direction using American registered purebred semen and began building up cow numbers to upgrade their herd.
Now, in 2014, their D7Spur stud is a member of both American and Australian Longhorn associations and is running two different herds of cows, a purebred herd and a graded commercial herd, keeping their valuable US genetic stock separate.
While there is a premium to be made - $400 more per animal than they would get from their 8500-strong Santa Gertrudis/Angus/Brahman cross herd – Gordon and Desley say they’ve become addicted to their Longhorn venture for other reasons.
“The biggest surprise is, you don’t know what colour the calf will be,” Desley said.
They could be black, white, red or a speckled combination of any of those and parent colouring doesn’t seem to have any bearing on what colour a calf will be.
Along with their spectacular horns, which can grow more than two metres wide, it’s their hide colour which is prized and helps bring the top prices for selected trophy steers.
The Davidsons bought their foundation purebreds from Michael and Lynda Bethell at the Horseshoe B stud at Charters Towers, who hold the Guinness world record for the longest horned steer, JR – all of 2.82m.
They handle all their weaners and tail them out, and the purebreds are tied up and halter broken, which helps if a grown animal has to be tied up for any reason later on.
“We make them go through gateways one by one, with no rushing,” Gordon said.
“It pays to give them extra yard space too – we’ve found that if you have too tight a yard the dominant ones rub the others up.”
But docility and easy handling is one of their traits and the Davidsons say they can be worked easily with common sense and an eagle eye.
A special walk-in squeeze crush designed by Breckons at Clermont allows them to do horn measurements, vaccinations, preg testing and AI work safely, and sale cattle are currently transported via a gooseneck float that can be loaded from a laneway.
Gordon and Desley recently took five of their animals to Werribee Zoo outside Geelong and say there is constant tourist enquiry.
From a livestock point of view though, they are retaining only their better cattle in order to keep improving the breed in Australia, and will begin an AI program this year to inject new and existing US bloodlines into their herd.
Any cattle that fail to meet their standards for body structure, temperament, fertility, colour or horn are dehorned and sold with the property’s backgrounding cattle or put through the meatworks.
Down the track, Gordon says he would like to try some out in a commercial carcase competition.
“The meat is very low in cholesterol – it doesn’t carry excess fat but it marbles well and tastes good and tender,” he said.
“It could even be a niche market – we are exploring that.”
The Davidsons find that as well as being very hardy, they have low birth weight calves, so much so that they are using Longhorn bulls over a first calf beef breed cow for calving ease, which still produces a good bodied calf to sell.
They are also joining their heifer calves back to Angus bulls to explore calving potential and dominant colour possibilities.
At the moment they don’t want to move away from their regular cattle enterprise and are happy for others to do the polishing and trophy mounting but are keeping a paddock of trophy steers available for the horns and hide market.
Horns don’t begin maturing until the animal is five years old and keep growing until they’re 10 years old, so it’s not a business with a fast return.
Gordon and Desley participate in the annual Texas Longhorn Australia sale at Gunnedah in New South Wales and will have four females and two trophy steers at the this year’s sale on June 8.
In addition they will have a display at Westech 2014 at Barcaldine in September.