Mark and Tina Stewart’s first experience exporting live cattle out of Canada had a storybook ending when their shipment of 24 Texas Longhorn cattle left the Calgary airport in Cargolux containers bound for Germany on March 8.
“It has been exciting for us,” says Stewart. “I’m sure there have been Longhorns shipped to Europe in the past, but this is the first time in a long while.”
It began more than a year ago when a couple from Germany called the Stewarts out of the blue to learn more about their Longhorn cattle. Stewart, who is the president of the Alberta Texas Longhorn Association, assumes the couple found their name on the association’s website. They were familiar with the Longhorn breed because other producers in Germany had been bringing in Longhorn embryo and semen from the U.S.
After talking a few times by phone, the potential buyers set up a website about Longhorns to test interest in the breed in their country. The number of hits was what convinced them to do something different by bringing Longhorn genetics into their herd.
“They came and stayed with us a week and just wanted to spend all of their time with the cattle — they took more than 800 pictures,” Stewart says. “We took them around to see other Longhorn cattle, then they called back later wanting to buy some of ours.”
The Stewarts set the price and the buyers looked after all of the costs and arrangements to get the lot of nine bred heifers, 11 heifer calves and four bull calves to their farm in Germany. The original plan was to ship them last fall, but, like any good story, there were twists along the way that made the ending that much sweeter.
The Stewarts were responsible for ensuring the cattle met the health requirements for importation into Germany. This meant more than a year of testing and working their entire herd three times, once every four months, to reach a leukosis-free status. Once certification was obtained, the specifi animals selected by the buyers entered their 40-day quarantine period and started their rounds of export testing for at least seven different diseases. Some of the animals were through the squeeze 12 times during the year and the Stewarts are very thankful for all of the help they received from the veterinarians, family and friends during the whole process.
The breed’s prized horns raised some questions about loading density in the shipping containers. At approximately $15,000 per container, the cost of shipping added up in a hurry. The learning experience was that it is much more practical to ship younger animals with less horn growth.
The plane landed at Luxembourg and the cattle were trucked directly to the farm in Germany for their quarantine period. The new owners are now busy talking with reporters and giving farm tours.
“The experience was very worthwhile and definitely, we would do it again,” Stewart says. It has opened the door to a new and large market opportunity for the Longhorn business and they look forward to accommodating their buyer and others in the future.
Lean Longhorn beef
The Stewarts own and operate MSW Meats near Ponoka, direct marketing a variety of meats from the store on their ranch and through a number of farmers markets in the area from Red Deer to Wetaskawin. Specializing in lean meat products, they raise Longhorns, bison, elk, chickens, turkeys and pheasants. The beef is processed at a local provincially inspected plant and sold as frozen product.
Stewart has been involved in the beef industry in one way or another for most of his life and, quite frankly says he became disillusioned with a lot of facets of the conventional industry.
He was frustrated with having to pamper his high-input mother cows along and tired of taking whatever price the buyers wanted to pay for the calves in the fall.
They began direct marketing in 2002 and found it to be a rewarding experience, not only because it allowed them to set their own price, but because they connect with consumers who have taken the time to do some research about what they buy and eat.
They brought Longhorns into the picture in 2005 and sold all of their other commercial cattle in the fall of 2009 in order to focus on their purebred Longhorn business. Stewart says the Longhorns have proven to be everything the breed is known for and all they were looking for in a beef animal — low-maintenance and high quality in the finished beef.
The Longhorn breed is best known for its genetic traits for survival stemming from its heritage rooted in Spain and transplanted into Mexico in the early 1500s. They roamed into the Texas plains where they mated with other types of cattle abandoned by settlers. Only the strongest survived. Thousands were gathered from the wild for meat production following the civil war. The U.S. government established a foundation herd of true Texas Longhorns in 1927 as the coming of fencing and British breeds pushed the Longhorns to the brink of extinction.
Survival starts with the cow’s mothering ability. She had to quickly deliver a nimble, hardy calf and get it up and going within minutes to keep pace with the herd, offering it protection against the elements by parking it near whatever shelter Mother Nature provided and relying on the herd instinct to help protect it from predators. Those innate characteristics have not been bred out of Longhorn cattle in the effort to shape beef animals to modern-day production systems.
Considering the breed’s long history south of the border, Longhorns are a relatively new breed in Canada. The first animals were driven across the border at the dawn of settlement on the Prairies in 1876, but breed numbers dwindled to next to nothing by the early 1900s after railroad expansion made it possible to import beefier British breeds from Europe. Purebred Texas Longhorns weren’t reintroduced to Canada until 1969. The Alberta Texas Longhorn Association, which is affiliated with the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America, was established in 1982 and has 30 members today.
Longhorn calves have always been top-of-the line stock for roping and cutting events and the hides and horns remain popular as nostalgic touches in interior decorating. The value of the breed in commercial beef herds has traditionally been in the calving ease for first-calf heifers. Only in recent years have feeding trials proven the carcass and performance merit of Longhorns and Longhorn crosses in the commercial feedlot setting.
For more information, visit www.albertatexaslonghorn.com.