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Black and white longhorn cattle

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The Genetics of Coloration in Texas Longhorns: The Wild-type Color Variants. Hillis, Double Helix Ranch.

This article is the third in a five-part series on the genetics of coloration in Texas Longhorn cattle. This article was published in Texas Longhorn TrailsVolume 16, number 6 If you have comments or questions about this article, please e-mail me.

This article is intended for a general audience of Texas Longhorn breeders, rather than a technical audience. However, some scientific jargon is unavoidable, so if any of the terms are Black and white longhorn cattle, please see the Glossary.

Everyone has his or her own preferences about color of Texas Longhorns. Black seems to have been a favorite over the past few years, perhaps because it is less common in Texas Longhorns compared to the various shades of reds and browns. Other people love roans of any shade, and some people are enthusiastic about grullas. I enjoy a diversity of color, but I find the various modifications of wild-type coloration to be the most beautiful and interesting of Texas Longhorn colors.

For one thing, these are the colors that change the most through time; wild-type colored calves are usually born some shade of red, and then darken with age, and may appear almost black as adults Figure 1.

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However, the degree of expression of black pigment eumelanin varies considerably, and is influenced by additional genes. These combinations of genes together with the wild-type allele at the Extension locus produce some of the most striking colors in Texas Longhorns, including brindle, Parker brown, walnut, and wine-colored.

Many introductory books on cattle greatly simplify the discussion of the genetics of cattle coloration, and may only present information on black and red coloration.

This is because the explanation of the black and red alleles is relatively simple, and because many breeds of cattle are fixed for one or the other of these two colors. There are, in fact, Black and white longhorn cattle two pigments that affect hair color of cattle, and these two pigments are black eumelanin and red phaeomelanin. Black cattle have both pigments, but they produce an excess of eumelanin, and this essentially masks the red phaeomelanin.

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Red cattle produce little or no eumelanin, and so their hair looks red. White cattle produce neither pigment in their hair.

It is doubtful if the red, black, or white colors were found among the ancestral aurochs the ancestors of modern European cattleat least in high frequency.


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