LAMPASAS — Wes and Carol Chancey purchased their first two longhorn steers so they could maintain the ag exemption on the land they bought for their retirement home.
Now, 16 years later, the couple has developed an “addiction” to raising, breeding and trading the animals on their 225-acre C&W Ranch.
“People told us longhorns were easy to take care of,” Carol Chancey said. “That’s the reason we bought our first. Then it got addictive and grew from there.”
Ranching wasn’t in the plans for the couple, both of whom grew up as Air Force children, moving constantly around the country, even as adults.
They moved to Texas in 1995 and discovered they liked the atmosphere, climate and “just everything about” the state, Carol Chancey said.
The land they bought to build their retirement home was covered in cedar and cost more to clear than they paid for it, Wes Chancey said.
In order to keep the land’s ag exemption for their taxes, they bought a couple of low-maintenance longhorn steers.
“We liked them a lot, so we bought some more steers,” Wes Chancey said. “And we bought some more. Then we bought some cows and started going to longhorn auctions.”
Currently, the Chanceys have about 60 longhorns on their ranch, and the number can fluctuate with every show or auction they attend or climate conditions and food prices.
The breed’s self-sufficiency drew the Chanceys the same way it draws others who get involved with raising longhorns.
Descended from the cattle brought by Spaniards in the 1500s — a time when the animals were often allowed to wander because of lack of fences — longhorns grew to be very disease-resistant and element-enduring with a natural resilience against predators.
“During a 300-plus year period of time, the longhorns were left to their own devices in the wild and a process of natural selection kind of took over,” Wes Chancey said. “Any longhorn that had trouble having a calf, for instance, ended up dying. Any longhorn that didn’t protect itself, didn’t make it. Longhorns that couldn’t walk long distances or eat marginal food ended up dying. By the time the 1800s came around, longhorns were a distinct, recognizable breed of cattle.”
When cattle drives started to gain popularity as a way of income for the state of Texas, the breed’s heartiness was an asset on the trail, where the animals were known to gain weight or birth calves along the way, Wes Chancey said.
“In 16 years, I’ve never lost a longhorn to a predator,” he said. “I had a longhorn cow attacked by a mountain lion. She fought it off, survived, and had a calf a week later. They pretty much take care of themselves.”
Longhorn calves are a particular joy to the Chanceys.
Coloring and patterns are not predictable, even if both parents have solid red hides, Carol Chancey said.
“When we know one is about to have a calf, it’s always exciting to see what color it comes out,” she said. “They’re like little Easter eggs.”
Because she is often in charge of registering calves born on their ranch, Carol Chancey gets the final say in naming the animals.
“Right now my favorite is a younger cow born on the property named Uppity Me. Her mother’s name is Pretentious Me,” she said. “(Wes and I) usually butt heads on it. He likes different names; I like names I can remember.”
The offspring of one bull on the property, Rio Whiskey, will likely have whiskey-related names, Carol Chancey said.
Another bull on the property, Wes Chancey said, has won awards for his 5-foot-8-inch hornspan, and he’s not even 2 years old yet.
“We’re expecting him to be 6 feet by his second birthday,” he said. “By the time he’s mature, he could have 7 foot horns.”
Horn length is the biggest driver of a longhorn’s value in auction.
The Chanceys have sold some of their stock for up to $170,000, but the money isn’t what they’re in it for, as each continues to hold down a job in addition to looking after their animals and, in Wes Chancey’s case, managing the Texas Longhorn Marketing Alliance.
“Most people in breeding longhorns are in it because they like the animals,” he said.
Contact Audrey Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7476