Bringing Texas Longhorns Home - to Israel
One of the biggest problems Israeli farmers in the north and south of the country face are constant thefts by Arabs and Bedouin, who swoop in and steal crops, equipment, livestock, and anything else they can get their hands on. Farmers complain that police are unhelpful, if not downright dismissive – to the extent that farmers now have their own patrols, looking out for bands of thieves who, in one night, can cause hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of financial and physical damage.
While patrols are important – as is increased police vigilance – Robin Rosenblatt of the Israel Longhorn Project has another idea that he thinks could help: Crossbreeding Israeli cows (mostly Simmental, and various crossbreeds of Charolais and Herefords) with Texas Longhorns – the “tough guys” of the feedlot, which are able to stand up to the difficult climate conditions in Israel and the natural predators inherent in the semi-desert conditions prevalent in many parts of Israel, and which can also defend themselves against aggressors – even marauding Arab thieves, says Rosenblatt.
The project has its roots in a 1996 seminar Rosenblatt took at Hebrew University. Having studied animal science in both Israel and his native California, Rosenblatt said that the class visited many ranches, but discovered that there was a lot about cow-raising the ranchers didn't know. “There were lots of diseases and parasites, and already at that time there was the problem of invasive shrubs and cacti that were quickly spreading,” he says, resulting in calf losses as high as 30%, low reproduction rates, and other problems. As a result, more cattle need to feed on pasture, and more pasture is required to compensate for the losses, causing more environmental damage.
Texas Longhorns could provide a major boost to Israeli cattle, says Rosenblatt. Considered among the elite of the cow world, Texas Longhorns with elite genetics can often fetch $40,000 or more at auction, with the record of $170,000 in recent history for a cow. Today, they are used mostly for breeding, and those tough Texas genes, when interbred with Israel's current livestock herds, will produce cows that will be able to thrive in Israel's harsh climate.
“They give birth more easily, protect their young more effectively, are able to subsist on shrubs, tree leaves, cactus and weeds, are able to go further with less water and lower quality water, and are highly resistant to disease and infections,” says Rosenblatt. “Texas Longhorns thrive and survive in almost any condition with minimal maintenance, and they interbreed well. With a little experimentation, we will able to determine the ideal balance between Texas Longhorn and other production breeds, like Herefords; we might find, for example, that a cow that is 40% Longhorn and 60% Hereford gives the best results of meat, with the survival characteristics we want to develop in herds,” he adds.
And Longhorns are the perfect breed to deal with predators of any type – from jackals to Arab thieves, says Rosenblatt. “Longhorns are well known for their protection of their young, and their herds.” When approached by a predator, for example, Longhorns are known for their banding together to rush – or even gore, with their substantial horns – the predator, who usually gets the message before facing dozens of huge cows barreling down on him.
It's certainly an innovative idea – but an expensive one, too. Rosenblatt has several major donors, and ideally would like to open a ranch in Israel, where he would be begin crossbreeding trials (his organization's website is http://longhorn-project.org/). Interestingly says Rosenblatt, bring Texas Longhorns to Israel would basically bringing them home. “Texas Longhorn originated east of Israel some 5 to 7,000 year ago and migrated west. Columbus brought them to the America-Mexico deserts,” Rosenblatt says. “American ranchers carefully improved them for today’s market needs while maintaining their desert characteristics. Texas Longhorn is the ideal breed for semi desert countries – like Israel.”