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The Color of Cattle

Editors note: The Wide variety of color is one of four breed's characteristics which first catch the eye of prospective breeders. However, realizing that new members often find color descriptions confusing, the Texas Longhorn Trails asked third-generation Texas Longhorn breeder Larry Griggs to provide us with photographs and a brief description of the more common colors. We hope you will find it helpful!

"The colors were more varied than those of the rainbow. There were brindles; blues – mulberry blue, ring-streaked blue, speckled blue, grullas – so named because they had the hue of the sandhill crane, also called mouse-colored or slate duns, washed-out and Jersey creams -- all hues of "yellow" browns with bay points; blacks, solid and splotched with white, brown and red; whites both clearly bright and dirty speckled; many sabinas, red and white peppered; reds of all shades except the dark richness characteristic of the Hereford, pale reds being very common; paints of many combinations. The line along the back was common, as in the mustang breed. Coarse brown hairs around the ears were characteristic. The shadings and combination of colors were so various that no two were alike" - J. Frank Dobie, "The Longhorns"

by Larry Griggs

Newton, Texas

Texas Longhorns have many great traits, and color is one of the most noticeable and enjoyable. Our breed of cattle can be almost any combination of color.

There are so many colors in Texas Longhorn cattle that you usually never know what color the calf is going to be. It has been likened to hunting Easter eggs. Even full brothers and sisters can be completely different in color. It would be hard to go to someone's pasture and match all the calves with their mothers. Sometimes the speckled calves belong to the solid colored cows, and the solid colored calves belong to the speckled mothers. Recently I had a solid red heifer calf and both her parents were speckled.

Color can also change as the calf gets older. For instance, a light red calf may become brindle after it sheds its baby hair (first coat.) I personally have never had one born brindle. Brindle is a striped color, usually red or brown with black stripes, and I have even seen some yellow calves turn to a brown or chocolate color before shedding; then when they shed their baby hair (first coat), they are back to black again. Some red calves may turn a dark brown or have dark prints after shedding. Some calves will be almost completely white when born and become speckled as they shed and age.

Parker Brown is a dark brown, almost black color, with a lighter dorsal stripe. It was named after Elmer Parker, the "head cowboy" at the Wichita Refuge for many years as it was one of his favorite colors.

There are various shades of red. Red can be very light to dark, with our without black or brown points, usually around the face and shoulders. If a red calf is born with a black nose and hooves, this is a good indication it could turn darker or have black points after shedding.

There are also varying shades of yellow, ranging from a light dun or yellow to a dark yellow. Grullas can range from a pale, smoky silver to a dark mouse color.

You may have heard of the term "flea bit." This color is predominantly white with underlying dark specks on the skin.

As you can see, there are so many color combinations in Texas Longhorn cattle that you cannot show them all in one article, but I hope these photos have been helpful and enjoyable.

The Inheritance of Color

By B.C. Allison

North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service

North Carolina State University

Color in beef cattle is a qualitative trait that is influenced by only a few pairs of genes; unlike the growth traits which are qualitative and are influenced by a number of pairs of genes. It is therefore easier to breed for particular color patterns in cattle than it is to change performance traits.

Each animal has two genes for basic color, one is received from the dam in the egg and one received from the sire in sperm. If you know what genes the sire and dam have, you can predict what genes the calf will have.

All cattle basically possess one of three basic colors: black, red or white. The two genes each animal has for color can result in six possible genetic combinations. The gene for black is dominant to the gene for red, therefore cattle with one gene for black and one gene for red (heterozygous) will be black. There is an incomplete dominance between the gene for black and the gene for white, resulting in cattle with one gene for black and one gene for white being a black-roan color. There is also an incomplete dominance between the gene for red and the gene for white, resulting in cattle with one gene for red and one gene for white being a red-roan color. The gene for white is recessive, resulting in only cattle with two white genes (homozygous) being a true white color.

Another pair of genes determines if the color is diluted or not diluted. The gene for dilution is dominant to the gene for non-dilution. Cattle that have one gene for dilution and one gene for non-dilution or two genes for dilution will have a diluted color. Cattle with two genes for non-dilution will not have a diluted color. The dilution gene causes black to be diluted to gray and red to be diluted to yellow. Diluted white will still be white.


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