July 12, 2024
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Texas Longhorn Cows to Make Aliyah

The Negev—If Robin Rosenblatt (M.Sc. Animal Science) has his way, Texas Longhorns will “make aliyah” to improve the quality of Israeli cattle herds and offer a safety net to the ranchers there.

Arriving in Israel from America in 1992 as a Master’s student, Rosenblatt was sent to various ranches to observe the cattle raising methods of local ranchers. What he found shocked him. It seemed he knew more about beef cattle from his bachelor studies in university than his professors did in the Israeli Master’s program.

Over the years, Israel has been raising as beef cattle plump, docile European breeds. Adapted to temperate grassy plains, they were put into Israel’s hostile desert environment where there is little grass and water is scarce. On every ranch he visited, Rosenblatt found numerous problems. He found beef cattle with poor disease resistance, genetic diseases, calf losses (as high as 30 percent), low reproduction rates, poor mothering skills, and a high rate of birth complications. Due to the high losses, more cattle were required on pasture and more pasture is required to compensate for the losses, causing environmental damage. Their incompatibility to the local land led to higher feed costs, as European cattle could not eat the native shrubs in Israel. Corn, which was imported from America, and used to feed these cattle, has become prohibitively expensive to import as feed, now that a large part of the American crop is used to make ethanol.

In addition to all the cattle problems, there were security issues. Israeli ranches were being attacked and their passive European cattle were being killed or mutilated—ears, noses and even heads were being cut off. Not only were there human predators, local jackals and wolves were also killing cattle.

Rosenblatt, in his Master’s dissertation on solving the beef cattle problem in East Africa (which was decimated in the droughts of 2009), suggested an exciting solution: Texas Longhorns could be brought to Israel as an experimental project and when successful, could be adapted to the situation as was done in East Africa.

Christopher Columbus first brought long-horned cattle to the Americas in 1494. Descendants of these ocean voyagers were the first cattle to populate the Americas. Over the centuries, the survivors of those first cattle multiplied from isolated bands to literally millions! Hard hooves and lethal horns equipped them for survival. Their spectacular color variations served as ultraviolet protection.

Until the mid-1800s, these big-horned, rugged range cattle multiplied without the help of man. Traits were genetically “fixed” through survival of the fittest, resulting in ecologically adapted bovine families with extremely good health, fertility, teeth, disease resistance, and soundness of body and limb. In 1850, it was estimated nearly 500,000 Longhorns could be found in southwestern California. In 1865, official estimates placed the Longhorn population in Texas at between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 head. These wild, nature-developed cattle provided cash for their captors and multiplied rapidly.

Over the last few years, the big story for beef producers in Israel has been the increase in local supply of beef as a result of imported calves, and the development of an active feedlot industry. Until the mid-1990s, fresh beef was limited to domestic slaughter of dairy culls and cattle from a small 50,000 to 60,000 head beef herd. The supply of fresh beef has nearly doubled since 1997 to over 45,000 tons per year, and domestic slaughter has supplemented imports so that nearly half of the country’s beef supply is now fresh beef from local producers.

As a result, consumption of beef in Israel has increased. Much of the demand is a result of population growth and increased standard of living. But the increased demand has put pressure on the economy to produce more meat yet still be cost efficient. Unfortunately, Israeli cattle producers have tried and failed to improve their cattle’s adaptation to the environment.

An additional problem in Israel (within the green line) is that farmland in Galilee is overgrown. Non-native thorn bushes, shrubs, and low trees leave farms fallow and create fire hazards that threaten the entire area. Rosenblatt says that Texas Longhorns may represent the solution to restoring the natural environment and developing the Negev. The research, if successful, could also help boost Israel’s lackluster meat production, decrease fire hazards, increase open space for indigenous animals and tourism, and foster business with United States ranchers.

Many security issues such as theft and mutilation of the cattle would be eliminated due to the intimidating horns of the Longhorns. Not only do the bulls have horns, but so do the cows, thus enabling them to protect their young calves. In addition, Longhorn beef is leaner than that of other breeds and lower in saturated fats. The flavorful Longhorn has less cholesterol and calories than chicken. Once Longhorn beef becomes available, the Israeli health conscious consumer can also enjoy tender juicy steaks at a reasonable price.

Rosenblatt is very passionate about the Texas Longhorn project. He has spent the last few years solving technical and legal problems and is currently is working tirelessly to acquire funding for it as a nonprofit. His initial startup goal is to bring 150-300 embryos as well as dozens of semen straws to Israel to begin populating the ranches with Longhorns. He feels that within five years the project will be self-sustainable and not need any additional funding. The critical time frame is the first five years. The longer this project gets delayed, however, the more irreversible damage is done to the ranches and environment of the Galilee. The farmers are getting tired of all the losses and the constant vigilance is wearing them down.

The Israel American Texas Longhorn Ecological Project is endorsed by the Texas Longhorn Heritage Foundation and operates in conjunction with scientists from Israel’s Department of Agriculture. This project is the only nonprofit whose business model is structured to be completely self-sustainable.

By Judy Yazersky

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