The Texas Longhorn is an iconic breed perhaps most representative of the state. Their majestic horns can span up to seven feet tip to tip. When in groups, they have a tendency to butt heads and lock those big horns, so what happens when six or seven steers are all put together in one ring?
That's exactly how the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Longhorn Trophy Steer Showdown is going to be run this year. About 30 steers total will be judged.
Allyson Tjoelker, executive director of Agricultural Exhibits, elaborated, saying, "The steers will not be on halters. They'll be running free and do like to play, which can be perceived as fighting. The handlers are going to be cautious as to how they let them out. We'll take precautions and will have a lot of people on board to get them from Point A to Point B to prevent them from hurting themselves."
One judge has the task of evaluating the formidable herd on horseback, but who in the world would want to do that?
Former Texas A&M football coach R.C. Slocum has taken on the challenge. He's not only a College Football Hall of Fame inductee; he is also, in fact, a rancher who participated in FFA in high school. He stepped away from the ranching life for his first love, football, but got back into it 14 years ago.
Slocum will be assisted by fellow judges Dr. Mark Hussey, dean and vice chancellor of Texas A&M, and Dr. Larry Boleman, associate vice chancellor for A&M Outreach and Strategic Initiatives. According to the Livestock Judging Association website, livestockjudges.org, Boleman has more than 60 years of experience raising and showing champion beef cattle and has professionally judged beef cattle around the nation for 46 years.
Hussey and Boleman will both be on a platform safely away from the unpredictable action. Why would Slocum, a legendary figure in Texas college sports history who is now retired, agree to be the on-the-field judge? Isn't he worried? Slocum says, "I have a horse, and I've been around a lot of cattle on horseback. Something could go wrong, but it's the same as when you get in your car to drive to the grocery store. You never know."
What about those impressive horns and the steers' tendency to play around? "Oh, I'm sure it gets into more than play sometimes. They're pretty proficient at using those horns. They learn how at an early age. I had a Longhorn for a while, and ended up giving him to my neighbor. He'd take those horns and be the ruler of the roost! He'd hog food, run my bull off and mount the cows, even though he was a steer!"
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The Longhorns will be broken into groups by age and judged on distinguishing characteristics of the breed, including the color pattern of their coat (breeders specifically select for interesting patterns like spots or stripes) and the width, circumference and symmetry of their horns.
They will also be evaluated on beef cattle traits, such as muscling and fat cover. These are Longhorns, so typically there is very little fat cover to speak of.
Just don't say anything to University of Texas graduates about Longhorns being judged by Aggies.
The suspense begins at 3 p.m. on March 8 in the Tractor Supply Main Arena.