How now, proud cow?

A registered Butler Texas Longhorn owned by Ray Beadle hangs out

Glossy hides rippling with brindle stripes, handsome faces
splashed with freckles, dramatic eyebrows to rival Elizabeth
Taylor, eyelids draped in feathery lashes and highlighted by lines
of color.
They’re beauty queens, all right. Full story
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Glossy hides rippling with brindle stripes, handsome faces splashed with freckles, dramatic eyebrows to rival Elizabeth Taylor, eyelids draped in feathery lashes and highlighted by lines of color.

They’re beauty queens, all right.

Bovine beauty queens.

“To me, you can’t find six prettier cows than the ones you’re looking at right now,” says Ray Beadle.

He waves his hand at an attractive group of cows, lounging in a 350-acre pasture in San Benito County.

Unflinching, the lovely livestock stare back inquisitively like big, docile dogs.

Beadle adds, “That is, if you’re into cows.”

Reared in the concrete streetscapes of Los Angeles, the now 71-year-old Texas Longhorn breeder became smitten with Western nostalgia at a young age. Admiring his cowboy uncles from the Midwest, an adolescent Beadle practiced roping on fire hydrants.

Now tending to 70 cows, 29 calves and four bulls, the white-haired rancher is an eclectic form of bovine enthusiast.

“I treat him with respect,” says Beadle, eyeballing a 1,600-pound male named Swampbuck from the opposite side of a barbed wire fence.

Taunted by a fetching female in heat, the 3-year-old bull sporting 65-inch horns flapped his upper lip, making unsuccessful passes at a looker named Picasso.

“He’s like a 16-year-old kid with a six pack of beer and his mother’s car for the first time on a Friday night. You don’t turn your back on him, because he’s full of it,” says Beadle.

Representing the California, Hawaii and Nevada chapters of the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America founded in 1964, Beadle attends meetings and votes on the direction of the TLBAA, for which he sits on the board of directors. The organization strives to protect the longhorn’s “unique heritage;” promoting the national legacy of a breed once considered more endangered than the buffalo in 1933.

Of the 80 Californian ranchers belonging to the association, Beadle says about 20 “extremely active” breeders keep herds of more than 20 to 25 longhorns. Between Morgan Hill, Gilroy and San Benito county, a number of residents maintain anywhere between 10 to 15 longhorns for hobby or sporting purposes such as team roping, he says. In terms of raising registered longhorns for pedigree and showmanship, however, Beadle’s herd is the largest out of half a dozen ranchers in the South Santa Clara and San Benito counties.

Although he “never saw it going this far,” Beadle’s become something of a paternal cow shepherd since purchasing six longhorns 15 years ago in Texas. He works in Gilroy, lives in Los Gatos and drives to Hollister five days a week to visit his cud-chewing family.

“Look at them come like that. Do most kids obey you like that?” he says, twisting around in the front seat of his white SUV, or, “traveling office,” and peering out the driver’s window.

Anticipating food, the bulky creatures broke into a brisk trot as they pursued Beadle’s vehicle on an overcast weekday morning.

Classified as registered Butler Texas Longhorns, the dapper-looking herd descends from one of seven pure bloodlines originating in the early 1900s in Texas. The livestock roams the bucolic heart of Rancho San Justo, situated on the western border of the San Juan Oaks Golf Club in Hollister.

“If they got out on that golf course, it would be the end of Ray Beadle,” he jokes.

Solid-colored calves are sold primarily as roping cattle. Beadle’s secondary market is meat, although he says longhorn beef is less fatty and not a substantial commodity in the food industry.

Raising longhorns isn’t so much of a moneymaking venture. Rather, Beadle’s uncommon hobby is fueled largely by enthusiasm for breeding stunning livestock with “curb appeal.” He says ranchers, doctors or lawyers who “just want something fancier grazing in their front yard,” often purchase his animals as living landscape ornaments. This includes locals with two to 10 acres who opt for an attractive form of weed abatement.

“Then one thing leads to another, they get a bull and pretty soon they got a calf and then they’re in the business,” he jokes.

Beadle says he’s paid up to $19,000 for one heifer, sold others for $5,000 and estimates his prettiest cow, Kim, is worth close to $20,000. Others, he’s heard, have sold for up to $150,000.

It’s an arresting price tag for a four-legged lawn mower, but the attractive beasts – Beadle’s, in particular, with their grandiose head accessories and shiny coats sprayed in brilliant fans of patterns – merit a double-take. Longhorns make the iconic Jersey cow look blase.

“Some people call them art,” said Beadle, indicating to a speckled female named “M&M.”

“You won’t see faces like this any other place.”

Standing amid his flock of lumbering friends in the middle of a field, the scene is reminiscent of a man feeding ducks in the park as Beadle tosses green alfalfa cubes to cows clamoring for treats. It’s rather miraculous he leaves unscathed, considering his large pets have 65-inch spears weighing 40 to 50 lbs sprouting from their heads.

As the animals rove in close proximity, the collision of horns brushing against horns emits a soft percussion of click, click, clicks.

“Hey!” yells Beadle as a scraping noise erupts in the background.

A cow was scratching its head on the grill of his car.

“Don’t rub up on my car!”

He calls most out by name: “Bit-O-Honey,” “Maybelline,” “Painted Girl,” “M’mm M’mm Good.”

Of the last cow mentioned, “she’s so friendly, she’ll crawl up in the car with me.”

The females – called heifers if they’re never been bred; cows if they have – are in heat every 20 days. Beadle puts the bulls and females in one pasture to mingle starting Sept. 15, resulting in a a crop of cute calves nine months later.

“It’s like an Easter egg hunt,” he says, scanning the yellow landscape for fuzzy baby heads poking out from the grass. “You never know what color they’re going to be.”

As his herd grows, so does Beadle’s knowledge and interest in local ranching culture.

“There’s a lotta history in this area. “It’s not just the cattle,” he said, pulling out a faded, dog-eared book titled “East of the Gabilans.”

According to its text, the 34,615-acre San Justo Ranch was purchased by two families – the Flints and Bixbys – in 1855 from Francisco Pacheco for $25,000. By pre-arrangement, the families sold half of the ranch to Colonel Hollister, who in turn sold his portion to the San Justo Homestead Association for the town of Hollister.

While cattle ranching on California’s central coast dates back to mission times, Beadle channels what local Hollister rancher Allan Renz calls “a rapidly disappearing lifestyle.” According to the 2010 crop reports for San Benito and Santa Clara Counties, the two regions had a combined 45,062 head of cattle with a production value of $20,274,000. The Santa Clara County Farm Bureau estimates 300 ranches operate today.

Between his wife, four daughters and five grandchildren, Beadle is the lone ranger intrigued with longhorns and their link to American history.

“None of my family has an interest in this,” he says. “It’s amazing.”

When asked to summarize the draw of raising longhorns, a pastime Beadle admits is a labor of love that barely breaks even, he replies, “Why do some people snow ski? Why do some people have Pekinese dogs for pets? Or Great Danes? I’m just a kid that grew up in Los Angeles, who likes this way of life.”

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