No two horns are alike, just as no two pieces of jewelry Sally Torres crafts from them are exactly the same.
Sally and her husband Mark raise Texas longhorns on their Columbia Falls farm. Their daughter, Easton Jane, helps out, and is the namesake for Sally’s longhorn jewelry business.
Outside the Torres’ home on Oct. 21, nine longhorns were busy eating. The sight of their imposing horns against a blue-gray sky is striking, but Sally assured that longhorns are known for their docile temperaments as she opened the gate. The adult longhorns glanced over, then turned their attention back to the alfalfa.
A calf showed the most interest out of the bunch, vying for Sally’s attention with nudges, while intensely curious Oberhasli goats gathered around. Sally said the calf received extra care as she was born underweight on a cold day.
Each horn tells a bit of history of each animal’s life, from the scars where they fought, rubbed or scratched, to the width and length, which reveal their age.
Inside her cozy home studio, Sally brought out two different horns of similar length.
“I’ve got a good 10-year-old cow horn here. An animal will grow horns until 4 or 5, lengthwise, and then they’ll start building mass. She probably has solid tip to here,” Sally said pointing, “Just a super heavy, thick horn.”
“This is a 2-year-old steer — there’s not very much mass,” she said, holding up a lighter horn next to it. “So the longer they grow the more mass they’ll add to that horn.”
“A horn is keratin, like our hair and fingernails with a bony core underneath,” she explained. “Horns are like a radiator is to a car. It’s like a cooling system.”
The diameter and shape of the horn inform Sally what it will become. With each raw horn, she cuts earrings, bracelets, necklaces cuff links and other accessories using a band saw. The solid horn tips typically become bottle stoppers and openers.
“It all depends on when I’m cutting, what it will be. Can I make it symmetrical enough to be a pair of hoop earrings? If you look at a pair of hoops, they’re never going to be exactly the same size because the horn tapers; you can never get two identical pieces,” Torres said.
The pieces go through a four- to five-step sanding process and one to two rounds of polishing.
“Certain things I’ll sand more because there’s a layer I want to get to, or the layer I want is very surface and I’ll sand less,” she said in reaching hues of white, black and brown.
Once the pieces are finished, they’re attached to a leather tag bearing the EastonJane logo in the form of facing initials “E” and “J,” flanked by horns that create the outline of a longhorn head. The logo used to be the brand the Torreses used on their cattle when they lived in Washington.
The couple initially began raising longhorns for their lean beef in 2008 on Sally’s family’s 80-acre homestead in North Bend, Washington, with another couple who had animal expertise. At one point, the business partners were raising 50 to 60 head in addition to working other jobs.
“They’re super lean, super hardy and very, very rarely need help birthing, so they are very low maintenance animals,” Sally said, explaining why they chose the Texas longhorn.
When an animal is butchered, there is minimal waste.
“The only thing that is disposed of is the stomach contents and then really everything else is used,” Sally said. “You can always find someone who wants the organs, even the stomach lining, it’s amazing what people use stuff for. Obviously the heart, liver, lungs, and tongue are delicacies to some people. We keep the bones for bone broth or for the dogs. The hides we tan. The skull we clean and we keep the horns.”
Yet, the market is limited for people buying horns and they began accumulating.
“We just collected all the horns, knowing we didn’t know what to do with them, but this was just too cool to dispose of,” she said holding one up.
The light bulb turned on when a friend gave Sally some buffalo horn jewelry. From a business perspective it made sense to her to reach a wider audience and create multiple pieces from a single horn.
“It’s much more of a niche audience to sell a skull and horns, versus a pair of earrings,” she said.
She pitched the idea of making jewelry to Mark.
“I said, ‘we can totally do this. You figure out how I can cut it, sand it, polish it and I’ll figure out the rest and put it all together,’” Sally recalled.
She started making her first pieces around 2010.
In 2017, the Torreses decided a new adventure awaited in Montana. Mark had visited and hunted in the state before and for a time his parents lived in Whitehall. They found the house and property that suited their needs for raising a family — and raising cattle. Both continue to work outside the farm. Mark is an elevator mechanic and Sally works remotely for an athletic and medical facility in Washington.
Sally never predicted she would be raising cattle — she grew up with a cat — nor does she view herself as an artist, but more of a craftsman. Growing up, she always saw herself as the athlete of the family. She went on to become a coach, personal trainer and holds an exercise physiology degree.
“People always say, ‘oh this stuff is so beautiful.’ I’m like, ‘the cow does everything.’ The cow is the one who is making all that color and variation and I just bring it to life. Yes, I have to come up with the ideas of what to make and how to shape things, but as far as the real beauty of the piece — that is the cow. Yeah, I’ll try to sand things down ... try to get some striations in it, but the way I look at it is sanding is not really a real creative outlet,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t know, I downplay it because the cow does most of the work; I just showcase it.”
For more information visit http://www.eastonjane.com.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.