Love Those Longhorns

Not being from Texas, I was hesitant to tackle this topic.  But I’ve always been a fan of  those tough, rangy cattle with their amazing horns, stretching as long as seven feet from tip to tip.  Longhorns are, and always will be, a symbol of the American West.

Their ancestry dates back to cattle brought to Mexico by the Spanish.  Some of these cattle went wild.  Over time they developed the resilience and survival skills that make Longhorns what they are today.  Early Texas settlers mixed the blood of these feral Mexican cattle with their own eastern cattle.  The result was a rugged, long-legged animal with spectacular horns and a coat that could be blue, yellow, brown, black, red or white, plain or speckled.   

But Longhorns are more than looks.  They have strong survival instincts and can find food and shelter in rough weather.  Longhorns can breed well into their teens or longer, and they’re known for easy calving.  A Longhorn cow will often go off on her own to have the calf in a safe place.  The calves can stand up sooner after birth than other breeds.

With their long legs and hard hoofs, Longhorns made ideal trail cattle.  After the civil war millions were driven to market.  They also stocked most of the new ranches on the Great Plains.    But times changed for the breed.  The “Big Die-up in the winter of 1886-87 and the spread of barbed wire fences brought an end to the open range.  Breeds like the white-faced Herefords put on weight faster and had fattier meat, providing needed tallow.  Ranchers crossed these breeds with Longhorns to produce hardier stock.  By the 1920s,  only a few small herds of Longhorns remained.

In 1927, Longhorns were saved from near extinction by the U.S. Forest service, who collected a small herd to breed in Oklahoma.  Other groups in Texas gathered small herds to keep in parks.  They were regarded as curiosities, but the stock’s longevity, disease resistance and low-fat, low-cholesterol meat revived the breed as beef stock—although many ranchers keep them purely as a link to Texas history.

Does anybody out there have experience with these amazing animals?  Any good stories?

There are no Longhorns in my March Western, THE LAWMAN’S VOW.  But you can get a sneak peek and an excerpt on my web site: http://www.elizabethlaneauthor.com

Watch for a giveaway next month.

Joanne Kennedy ~ Don’t Mess with Perfection

Thank you for inviting me to Petticoats and Pistols ! I’m flattered that so many wonderful Western writers want me to come play at their house—even though my heroines are more likely to wear Wrangler jeans than petticoats. A first-time guest should always bring a hostess gift, so I brought two copies of Cowboy Fever along to give away.

What I really want to talk about is cowboys, but since this is my first visit, I should probably introduce myself first. My name is Joanne Kennedy, and I write contemporary Western romance for Sourcebooks. My books include Cowboy Trouble, Cowboy Fever, and 2010 RITA nominee One Fine Cowboy. My next release, Tall, Dark and Cowboy, hits the bookstore shelves November 1st.

I’m not a native Westerner, but I should have been. I figured that out twenty years ago and ran away from home to the Wild West. I’ve always loved Western history, horses, and wide-open spaces, and I was thrilled to discover that real cowboys still walk the streets of Cheyenne. My new hometown’s surprising blend of past and present is the inspiration for my books, which are light contemporaries set in the traditional worlds of ranching and rodeo.

There aren’t as many real-life working cowboys here as there used to be, but the ones that are left still wear the same clothes, talk with the same deliberate drawl, and ride with the same grace they did back when the West was wild. While other occupations have been mechanized and modernized, a cowboy’s work has stayed the same.

Partly, that’s due to the stubborn and cussedly unchanging nature of cattle. Though a lot of ranch work is done with pickup trucks and other machines, you can’t cut a mama cow and her calf from the herd with a four-wheeler. A modern Black Angus or Hereford might carry a lot more beef than an old-time Longhorn, but a cow is still a cow, and bovines tend to get riled up when they’re set upon by a roaring, growling machine.

But the main reason cowboy culture sticks to tradition is that there’s no reason to mess with perfection.  Watching a true cowboy work cattle from horseback, it’s obvious that the best techniques for doing the job were perfected long, long ago.

True, some ranchers wear John Deere caps instead of Stetsons—but a little sunburn on the back of your neck provides a quick lesson in the proper design of a cowboy hat. And while Western boots have become a fashionable accessory for city folk, they were designed because you can catch a stirrup on that pointy toe, and the slanted heel keeps your foot from getting trapped in the stirrup if (or in my case, when) you fall off your horse. Denim jeans, chaps and chinks, and all the other tools of the trade have remained unchanged for the same reason – they work.

The only way cowboys have changed is in the way they break and train their horses. Rather than riding broncs to a stand-still and forcing them to perform through aggressive training methods, modern horsemen have learned to form a true partnership with their animals. It takes a certain sensitivity to work this way, and a man who doesn’t embody the virtues of patience, sensitivity and understanding doesn’t last long in the contemporary cowboy business.

So while I love the world of the Old West, I think today’s cowboys are even better than history’s tough cowpokes and sexy outlaws. They still have old-fashioned values centered on  land, love and family, but they have tighter jeans, more opportunities to bathe, and pickup trucks. You’ll see in Tall, Dark and Cowboy just how much I love pickup trucks and how handy that bed in the back can be!

I want to know all about your ideal cowboy. Is he historical or modern-day? A clean-cut hero or a sexy outlaw? Does he drive a pickup truck or a covered wagon? Tell me all about him in the comments and I’ll send two commenters free signed copies of Cowboy Fever.

A Different Kind of Horse for a Different Kind of Cowboy

When I started writing HONEYMOON WITH THE RANCHER, I figured that a special kind of cowboy – an Argentine Gaucho – rode a special kind of horse. Turns out I was right, and today I’m going to introduce you to the Criollo.

This native horse of Argentina descends from the horses of the Iberian conquest. When parties went to explore and conquer South America, horses were shipped to the river Plate from Iberia, and as in all the Spanish and Portuguese conquests, they brought the toughest, hardiest horses they could. Conditions were tough on such voyages with insufficient food and water. Many horses died or were unable to regain health. Whether it was the primitive characteristics that cropped out under the wild conditions in the New World, or whether some of the shipments were of rather primitive Iberian horses in the first place, fact is that until fairly recently, the Argentine Criollo and the Criollo in general, bore a considerable resemblance to the ancient Sorraia wild horse of Portugal and Spain (zebro, or encebro).

During long campaigns with Indians, many horses escaped or were turned loose. Also after destruction of Buenos Aires by Indians, many horses were driven into the wild. Natural selection resulted in physical hardiness and the survivors became the progenitors of the Argentine Criollo breed.

The Criollo horse is still the choice of the South American cowboys, the best-known of which is Argentina’s gaucho. On cattle drives or gathers, the Criollos are usually ridden for a week, then returned to pasture and substituted by new ones. All along, the native grass is their only feed. Horses on the ranches are not necessarily registered Criollos, in fact, they seldomly are. The registered Criollo horse has become too valuable to be exposed to the dangers and hardships of many ranches, but those horses used for ranch work are still criollos in the original sense of the word. It is a bit confusing that the breed carries the name of a horse that, traditionally, was not a breed, but a wild or semi-wild horse without a pedigree. Now the pedigreed horses carry that same name: Criollo. In that respect, too, the situation is similar to that of the mustangs of North America, where mustang also described a wild-living horse without a pedigree, but registries exist that use the term to describe their registered animals.

Just like from the work of the North American cowboy, several events resp. contests have derived from the South American herdsmen’s work, some are similar to those in North America, some are quite unique. The Criollo horse excels in all of them.

Criollos of Central and South America were the basis for several specialized breeds, such as the different Paso breeds, or the Mangalargas of Brazil. If you’ve never seen a Paso in motion before, it’s a real treat. I never got to ride one but my sister did, and she said it was like gliding on a magic carpet.

The Criollo horse became only really known beyond its homeland through the famous ride by Swiss Aim Tschiffely with two Criollos from Buenos Aires to New York City. The two horses, Mancha and Gato, were 15 and 16 years of age, respectively, when he set out. He was received by the U.S. president in Washington when he arrived there three years later, after approx. 13,500 miles that took him, among other hardships, over the over 18,000 feet high Condor Pass in Bolivia. That both, Mancha and Gato, afterwards lived to be over 40 years of age is further testimony to the extraordinary toughness and vitality of the Criollo horse.
In some ways, I learned that the Criollo is practically a symbol for the strength and resilience of the Argentine people.

HONEYMOON WITH THE RANCHER is out now from Harlequin Romance.

*info provided by http://www.horseshowcentral.com/horse_breeds/criollo_horse/421/1

Green Ranching

I’m always intrigued by new ways of using technology to improve farming, and with the latest buzz being about sustainability and environmental responsibility, I did a little research into some new trends. What I found was pretty interesting, and I’m still learning and trying to understand some of it (a scientist I am not).  I’m pretty intrigued by two ideas and interestingly enough they are on different ends of the spectrum – one is taking ranching into the future, and the other is returning to grassroots ideas.

So cool idea #1 – Have you ever heard the saying “Making honey out of dog #$*&”? Now you can make electricity from refuse – specifically manure. Manure makes gas, which is then converted into electricity. Methane never smelled so good. If you take a look at this ranch’s site, you’ll see how they use the manure from their cows to create enough electricity to completely power their own operation – and then some.  There’s been a lot of development in this area over the last few years; I hope other Canadian operations will soon follow suit! 

As Spring Creek puts it: When you work with a live inventory that keeps eating and growing everyday, challenges are a fact of life; they also present a heap of opportunity.  Case in point, cattle produce manure; crop production results in organic waste…It simply makes sense to renew the resources that sustain our family and community – today and well into the future.

I’m guessing this is a pretty expensive venture to set up, and yes there are manufacturing considerations for fuel cells etc. but one would hope there would also be grants available to assist. What a renewable resource! Everybody poops! Holy Cow!

The other cool idea is one I came across researching some areas in Southern Alberta. I found one particular operation that’s kickin’ it old skool when it  comes to methods. The OH Ranch takes conservation very seriously – through a Heritage Rangeland Designation and Conservation Easements. What does that mean? I’m going to snag the explanation from the OH Ranch Site:

For the OH Ranch, the public grazing land portions of the Longview and Pekisko sections of the ranch are now designated as heritage rangeland. The heritage rangeland designation helps protect about 10,200 acres (41.28 square kilometers) of public land that has consistently been ranched under grazing leases by the OH Ranch. The designation helps preserve a way of life through the continuation of traditional ranching practices that have stewarded and managed sensitive native prairies in southern Alberta for generations.

Conservation easements are voluntary agreements between a private landowner and a qualified land trust which limits the amount and type of development that can occur on a property. Easements are negotiated to preserve the natural character of the land, and its ecological integrity, scenic values and/or scientific and educational potential. The OH Ranch is working with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Southern Alberta Land Trust Society on conservation easements for their Longview and Pekisko ranch lands, and with Ducks Unlimited on easements for he Dorothy and Bassano ranch lands. The easements will be registered against the land title, ensuring that current and future owners manage he land according to terms of the easements.

The other term you’ll see here is “traditional ranching practices”. Since its inception in 1883, the OH Ranch has always operated using traditional methods. Today, cowboys continue to ride the range, moving cattle and doctoring sick animals in the open field by roping from horseback. While the ranch owns trucks and other equipment, horses are still the primary mode of transportation on the ranch and continue to be used for such tasks as packing fencing supplies, minerals and salt and protein blocks. The OH Ranch is one of the few large cattle outfits in North America which continues to be operated utilizing historic methods.

It’s really interesting to see ranchers come up with new ways of preserving the environment and staying sustainable in an economic climate that is anything but farmer-friendly.