April 2017
Farm & Field

Hooked on Longhorns

2016 Texas Longhorn Breeder of the Year Nancy Dunn is leading the charge to increase the popularity of this unique cattle breed in the Southeast.

 

Nancy Dunn checks in on her heifers.

by Rebecca Oliver

Texas Longhorn cattle aren’t common in the Southeast but that didn’t stop Nancy Dunn, the 2016 Texas Longhorn Breeder of the Year, from becoming hooked on the breed at her Rolling D Ranch in Eclectic.

In 1989, Dunn decided to purchase a few longhorn heifers to practice with for roping competitions and fell in love with the cattle. Since then she’s been fine-tuning her breeding program to develop the best in the breed.

Dunn was voted the 2016 Dave Evans Breeder of the Year by Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America for her positive promotion of the longhorn breed by the association’s members.

The cattle Dunn produces have developed a reputation for dominating shows across the nation and bringing top sellers to breed auctions.

"I’m always surprised when my cattle do well," Dunn said. "I do my best to make sure they look good, but you never really know how you’re going to do until it’s over."

Dunn has broken breed show history twice by sweeping first, second and third place honors with her cattle at major futurity shows.

"The first time I did it the announcer said he’d never seen it happen before and would never see it happen again; then he had to take that back when it did happen again," Dunn laughed.

The cattle are rated by a panel of judges who score the cattle individually. The scores from the judges are combined and averaged after eliminating the highest and lowest score to eliminate the possibility of any favoritism.

Dunn has brought several awards back home to Alabama, but the awards aren’t your typical trophies.

Nancy’s longhorns are home on the range at Rolling D Ranch.

 

It’s a tradition for winners at longhorn breed shows to be awarded something more fitting of the Wild West background of longhorns – a shotgun.

"I’ve won quite a few shotguns with my cattle," Dunn said. "It’s become a thing among the people I show with that I’m going to take all the guns home at the shows I come to."

She attributes her success to simply breeding the cattle the way she likes them best.

"I don’t breed for any single characteristic," she explained. "I breed for a full package."

Dunn breeds not just for the iconic horns the breed is known for but also for body confirmation, milking ability and wild color patterns.

There’s no way to predict what coloring a calf will have from the pairing of its parents.

"It’s just a gamble you have to take," she remarked.

Dunn has manipulated other characteristics of the cattle over the years to perfect her stock.

"What you miss in one breeding season you try for again in the next. I’m always looking to improve," she said.

There are many variances in longhorn traits from their horns to color patterns. Dunn’s personal favorite trait is Texas Twist horns that curl back towards the animal’s body on the ends.

Most people mistakenly believe longhorns are dangerous because of their horns, but the docile nature of longhorns is one of the things that prompted her to keep the first set of longhorn heifers and start a breeding program.

Dunn’s show cattle are not lead on halters. Longhorns are viewed by judges at shows as they walk by them in a pen, but that doesn’t mean her cattle aren’t gentle.

 

Longhorns are known for their wild color patterns and horns.

"I spend a lot of time with my cattle every day," Dunn said. "They all act like pets."

Another common misconception about the longhorn breed is that they don’t carry as much weight as English breeds of cattle. Dunn takes pride in the extra meat her cattle have.

Dunn credits the conditioning on her cattle to the feed purchased at Elmore County Co-op.

"It’s a good, consistent feed," Dunn said. "When I travel to shows, I need my cattle to eat so there can’t be any changes in the feed mix from week to week."

Dunn has developed friendships with breeders at the shows she attends and has become known as a source of information for new breeders.

Dunn recommends that those looking to become first-time longhorn buyers should always visit more than one farm to see as many cattle as possible.

"You’ve got to figure out what you like," Dunn explained. "You won’t know what a good longhorn looks like by just looking at one set of cattle because there’s so many different traits people focus on in their breeding programs."

Dunn sells replacement heifers and bulls to other longhorn breeders and has developed a reputation as a reliable source for proven longhorn genetics among her peers.

Dunn has served on the TLBAA Board of Directors and is working to make longhorns more popular in the Southeast.

"They’re a hardy breed and do well in this climate," Dunn said. "I hate to see people not take advantage of what this breed has to offer."

Dunn’s ultimate goal is to continuously improve her herd with each breeding season to contribute to the progress of the longhorn breed.

"These cattle hold a special place in my heart," Dunn concluded. "There’s no better way to start and end the day than by feeding my longhorns."

 

Rebecca Oliver is a freelance writer from Auburn.