Tyson Leonard Back in the Blue Ridge

By Myra Basham

When people in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia and North Carolina are heard talking about an incredible set of horns they just spotted in a field, most would assume they had just seen an impressive whitetail deer. That is unless, of course, the field is owned by Tyson Leonard of Galax, VA. His herd of Texas Longhorn cattle draws far more attention than a commonplace deer.

Leonard, heavily involved in the horse business for years, won his first Longhorn. While attending a horse sale in Gettysburg, PA, Leonard wound up in a card game with a fellow at the sale. Leonard won and instead of money, took a longhorn. “I brought the old Longhorn home, and I kinda liked him,” Leonard laughed. “So I went to a Longhorn sale and bought me some Longhorns, the Gilley sale. That’s how I got in.”

While horses had been his focus at that point in his life, Leonard grew up around cattle. “My father had three stockyards and from the time I was five I knew how that stuff will go through your toes.” Tyson met the late Paul Babington at the Gilley Production Sale and they went on to be lifelong friends. “He turned out to be one of the best friends I ever had. We went all over this country, I can tell you that.”

Leonard started really pursuing Longhorns in 1991. ‘When I got in it, I went over the hill like I always do. I had cows everywhere.” At one point in the 90’s, Leonard Farms had over 750 head of Longhorns located at various farms in North Carolina and Southwestern Virginia. In 1994, Leonard, Babington and the late Ben Gravett got together and started the Blue Ridge Breeders Production Sale held in Mount Airy, NC. That first sale included lots from 30 consignors from across the U.S. The sale became a well-known staple for 15 years. Leonard and Babington traveled to events across the country. At a dispersal sale he met Ray Moore and not only wound up with half interest in a nice bull named Hot Shot, but hired Ray’s Son-in-law, Mel Raley to be his ranch manager. Ray’s daughter Denise and Mel moved to Mount Airy, NC and took care of the Longhorns and the horses for Leonard. “It was a great relationship all the way across the board.

In the early days, the trait Leonard most valued was color. “I’m going to be truthful with you, I like the pretty ones. I like the colored up ones. That’s basically what I started out with.” When asked how things have changed since then Leonard responded, “ I can remember when a man called me up to see if I had 50-inch Longhorns. How the horns have changed is really amazing.”

Leonard admires many traits found in Longhorns, such as ‘their survival rate, they can do things that other cows can’t like protect themselves from coyotes. They live a long time.” When it comes time to buy one there are two main things he considers. “The Tyson Leonard and Paul Babbingtonmain thing we’re concerned about when we get a Longhorn is we don’t want anything that is not really gentle because I’ve got grandkids around. If they’re not gentle we can’t keep them.” The other characteristics Leonard looks for when buying is color and unique horn shape.

When asked if running them in the heavily wooded areas presented any problems, Tyson told of only one incident involving horns. “I’ve only had a problem with one cow in all these years that broke her horn. She was running crazy right down through it and she turned her head. It actually busted it off right down to the nub. Still got her. She’s a daughter of Wyoming Warpaint. We get good calves out of her, so we’ll just keep her.” 

When Leonard first brought Longhorns into the area, they were seen as a novelty by others in the region. According to Leonard people might buy one to cross with another breed, but most did not bother to register them. Even now that there are a lot more of them in the region, people see them as something unusual. However, there are some serious Longhorn breeders in his part of the country, though Scott Hughes and Jim Atwell are two that have remained in the Longhorn business in a big way that Tyson got started years ago.Through the years, Leonard attended shows and sales and enjoyed time spent with other breeders, a list which is a who’s who of Longhorn breeders past and present. “I’ve enjoyed it, I really have. I like to go to the sales, I like to go to the shows and I like to be around the people.”

Tyson encountered health issues seven years ago and he was not as active as he once was. “The whole time when I was sick and everything, I kept 30 or 40 head here,” Tyson explained, “ I never got rid of all of them.” Now, following the sale of Leonard Aluminum, the company that Tyson started in 1963 and built up to 54 retail outlets, and with his health improved, he is excited to get back to raising Longhorns in a big way. “Now that I’m well again I’m going to continue to buy. I look forward to going to the sales and seeing the people.”

At the 2015 TLBAA Horn Showcase Leonard was a volume buyer, taking home 10 females to add to his program. He’s looking forward to future sales and to seeing all of his Longhorn friends down the road. 

Texas Longhorns in Virginia at Leonard Farms Texaco Tex at Leonard Farms Texas Longhorns in Virginia at Leonard New River Farms

Angela Rector: Dream Job

Angela Rector, Tyson’s personal assistant, has been involved with the Longhorns and horses for 21 years. “We share a mutual interest in Texas Longhorns and horses. We spend a lot of time riding in the pastures, looking and talking about every cow and horse on the farm as individuals while reminiscing about the sale we attended when we bought a particular cow.” They both love the thrill of seeing a newborn calf for the first time or watching a ‘home grown’ heifer mature into an outstanding brood cow, as well as the exhilaration of the ‘winning bid’ (more so for Angela, than him).
“I am extremely proud to be affiliated with Leonard Farms and to be associated with Mr. Leonard on a personal level,” said Angela. “He has treated me like a daughter and I am forever grateful for the opportunities and memories he has provided me over the years. I have traveled to places that I otherwise would not have been able to go to. I am fortunate to be able to live on his beautiful farm. We both share a genuine love for Texas Longhorns. One of my favorite quotes from Mr. Leonard is ‘It’s like selling a 1980 Cadillac and a white Longhorn bull calf, sometimes it just ain’t going to happen.” I hope to spend many more years with Mr. Leonard just riding and looking at cows!”