There's some serious significance behind the cutest new baby face at Conner Prairie, an outdoor history museum near Indianapolis. Born in late March, the English longhorn calf is one of only about 40 in the United States. The oldest registered breed of cattle in the world, the now-rare breed was once very common in the United States but nearly went extinct around 1850.
Using a hefty dose of science, managers at Conner Prairie hope this newest addition will help grow the herd's numbers. Roundabout, as the calf has been nicknamed, was created using a fertilized 7-day-old embryo shipped from England in liquid nitrogen. A shorthorn cow served as its surrogate mother. This is the first time since 1993 that embryo transfer technology has been performed successfully with an English longhorn in the U.S.
Once the young calf comes of age, he will serve as a sire for the farm's breeding stock, creating a new lineage of English longhorns in the U.S. Up until now, the farm has used artificial insemination from English longhorn cattle located elsewhere in the U.S.
"We're trying to bring back this genetic pool in America," Conner Prairie president and CEO Norman Burns tells MNN. "As a bull, he eventually will continue to grow our herd."
Popular Colonial cow
English longhorns were popular for centuries because they were a bovine jack of all trades. According to the U.K.-based Longhorn Cattle Society, they were good for meat, their milk makes good cheese and butter, and they were strong enough to be hardy draft animals. On top of that, they were also fairly low-maintenance.
"That's probably why the earliest Americans brought them with them: They were a very utilitarian type of animal," Burns says. "They're very intelligent and have a very gentle disposition, which makes them very easy to use on the farm."
But eventually, people wanted more milk and meat production and stronger, bigger cows as draft animals. Over time, the breed faded out and larger, more productive breeds prevailed. The English longhorn nearly went extinct. At least for a while.
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust rescued the breed in 1980, and the English longhorn's popularity has started to grow.
Things to know about the English longhorn
Here are some more interesting facts about this very rare breed:
- English longhorns aren't the same as Texas longhorns, a breed that originated in Spain. The English longhorn's horns curve downward and toward its face, not upward and away, like the Texas version.
- The breed is often used in environmentally sensitive sites. According to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust: "Hardy and adaptable, with good grazing and browsing characteristics, the Longhorn has good potential for expanding use within conservation grazing management. Animals range widely and due to their horns individuals generally graze further apart than some breeds."
- The cows can range from brown to gray, but they all have a characteristic white line that runs along their back and down their tail. The white marking is called finching.
- Their horns were once prized to make buttons, cups, lamps and cutlery.
- English longhorn cows are known to be excellent mothers. They need little help calving and take care of their young very well.
Conner Prairie's newest addition seems to be getting along fine with his surrogate mother. He's garnered quite a lot of attention from visitors and on social media because well, he's a triple threat.
"The combination of the history and the science and the rarity is really resonating with the public, and that's a really good thing," says Burns.
It doesn't hurt that he's pretty adorable, too.