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Longhorn auction brings Wild West to Hagerstown

Breed is gaining popularity in the Northeast

June 05, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT
  • Narnia, a Texas Longhorn cow, was one of 90 Texas Longhorns that were auctioned Saturday afternoon at Four States Livestock Sales in Hagerstown.
Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN -- The lead longhorn danced down a sloping passageway, followed by a dozen other cattle forming an undulating river of beef.

With their massive bodies and curling horns, they slid through a wooden gate and into a show ring, where people greeted them with respectful nods.

The Texas Longhorn -- symbol of the American West -- had made a grand entrance. A durable legend, it still can turn heads.

But this wasn't a town along the Chisholm Trail. It was East First Street in Hagerstown.

And the cattle didn't arrive at the hands of cowboys whistling, whooping and waving lassos. They traveled in comfortable trailers.

About 100 head of Texas Longhorn made their way into Four States Livestock Sales on Saturday to be bought or sold at auction.

Sponsored by the NorthEast Texas Longhorn Association (NETLA), the registered event is one of only a few auctions in this part of the country.

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"Most people associate longhorn cattle with the west, Texas and Oklahoma," said Randy Sutton, a member of the organization. "But there are a growing number of breeders on the East Coast."

In the Hagerstown area alone, he said, there are about a dozen breeders.

Sutton expected about 250 people to attend Saturday's sale, attracting breeders from as far as North Carolina and Ohio.

"The auction is a good marketing tool for northeast breeders," he said. "Some people aren't interested in buying or selling cattle on their own. This is a great option."

Some of the cattle go for thousands of dollars, breeders said. But at Saturday's event, bargains could be found because of the economy. One of the top bids was about $1,800 for riding steer.

Sutton said the organization has been holding an auction in Hagerstown for the past five years, and each year attendance seems to grow.

"More and more people are discovering longhorns," he said. "They're very self-sufficient. If you're looking for an animal that isn't high maintenance, you're looking at the longhorn."

Though their horns -- sometimes spanning 100 inches -- can be intimidating, Sutton said Texas Longhorns are among the most docile animals on earth.

"They're also very intelligent and very loyal," he said.

Sutton said their meat is very flavorful and doesn't have the same amount of fat and cholesterol of other cattle, making it very healthy.

But many people don't raise longhorns for their meat, he said. They raise them as show stock, as well as pets. Some people refer to them as "yard ornaments."

Nanci Koerting of Boonsboro said she was helping at one of the local sales when she fell in love with a heifer and ended up taking it home.

"I got bit by the bug," she said.

Koerting said she was attracted to the animal, which she named Texas Reign,because of "its wicked color, which is very flattering."

"She literally stops traffic," Koerting said. "People pull over all the time to look at her."

Recently, Texas Reign won Reserved Champion Female at an area longhorn show.

Sutton, who lives in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., said he and his wife began raising Texas Longhorns in the mid-1990s.

"I was always a horse guy," he said. "But longhorns are like potato chips. You can't have just one. They become addictive."

The couple take some of their longhorns to area shows, he said, and have had several grand champions over the past few years.

Sutton said he, too, has noticed people stopping near his farm to get a closer look at the cattle.

"They probably stop more traffic than an Elvis sighting," he said.

Sutton said the fascinating thing about Texas Longhorns is the variety of color.

"Some breeds have one color and that's it," he said. "With longhorns, you have black, brown, white, speckled. Head out into the fields and it's like an Easter egg hunt."

Lizz Huntzberry of Smithsburg, said she grew up on a farm but never had cattle.

"I always loved horses," she said. "I also liked the Wild West and cowboys."

So it wasn't surprising that 15 years ago, she purchased her first Texas Longhorn. She's been hooked ever since and now has 30 cattle roaming her property.

A member of NETLA, Huntzberry said the organization is dedicated to educating the public about this breed of cattle through exhibits at shows and fairs.

The group also supports youth from longhorn families by helping with entry fees at shows and establishing college scholarships.

Sutton said the Texas Longhorn, which once roamed the West by the millions, almost became extinct.

"But it has made a roaring comeback," he said. "They're a very unique animal, valued by some for its long horn but, more importantly, its legacy."

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