Tall grass swayed in the wind as imposing longhorns topped the horizon headed for a nearby watering hole. Their horns nodded back and forth as the herd walked almost single file. The majestic scene was reminiscent of the Old West, but remarkably was in the Fleahop community of rural Elmore County. Standing nearby was their owner. Not a tall, slim cowboy, but a feisty, petite woman who cares for them each day.
“I’m originally from Monroe County and grew up on a farm,” said Nancy Dunn, who’s been raising registered longhorns since 1988. “My granddaddy had a dairy, and he had beef cattle, so I’ve been around cattle all my life. But longhorns aren’t like most other breeds, and there’s more to them than just the horns.”
Admittedly, the long horns are among the most valued attributes of the breed, but for Dunn, her cows must have good conformation, excellent milking ability and a gentle disposition.
“I like a cow with some depth of body,” she said. “Most of mine are a little bigger than the typical old Western trail drive longhorns people might expect. They aren’t bony. They have a straight top line, and my females have to look feminine.”
Dunn describes longhorns as “almost maintenance-free,” adding they are heat and insect tolerant, disease resistant, early maturing and have a long breeding life. She said longhorn beef is delicious, lean and tender, and it’s the only beef she serves her family.
Dunn and her husband, Hugh, both retired from USDA Rural Development a few years ago. They enjoy team roping with their two sons and competing in stock horse shows. Hugh, however, doesn’t share his wife’s passion for longhorns.
“He has three cows,” Dunn said, pointing to the herd in front of their home. “None of them have horns.”
Currently, Dunn has 65 brood cows, 15 replacement heifers and is part of a syndicated bull ownership program. She plans to maintain that number, but hopes to improve genetics through her replacement heifers.
“I got started with some longhorn heifers that we had roped for a while,” she recalled. “It didn’t take me long to get interested in the history and genetics of the registered side. I sold those and went to all registered longhorns around 1990.”
Dunn said she’s bought cattle from breeders around the country, notably Jimmy Jones from Greenville, Ala., whom she calls her mentor and close friend, and Terry King of Westville, Fla.
It was Jones who, in 2004, sold her the prize cow, Horseshoe J Cadence, which won the “Tip-To-Tip” class at the 2011 Horned Showcase contest sponsored by the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association. The cow’s horns spanned a whopping 79 inches.
Despite the accolades, Dunn said the best reward her longhorns offer is the peace she finds in the pasture among her herd.
“It’s very therapeutic just watching them,” she said. “As I told my husband one day, if I have to explain it to you, there’s no way you’re going to understand it.”
For more information, visit the National Longhorn Breeders Association of America at TLBAA.org or the Southeastern Texas Longhorn Association at SoutheasternLonghorns.com.