The Chihuahuan Desert, North America's biggest, sprawls from west Texas to southern Arizona and sweeps across vast tracts of northern Mexico. It is harsh, unforgiving land -- a furnace in the summer, when temperatures zoom past the 100-degree mark, and arid in the winter. In such an environment, it is tough for cows to flourish.

Enter Milton Thomas and his pet project, the Chihuahuan super cow. A cattle geneticist at New Mexico State University, Thomas believes he can devise a new bloodline that would thrive in the sun-scorched desert, make do with parched grass and still bring ranchers a handsome profit.

His formula is a new type of Brangus cow, the 50-year-old cross between a Brahman and an Angus, which would be specially adapted for the desiccated livestock ranches of the Southwest, where the grass is green just three months a year. His cow would be smaller than a typical Brangus and a lot heartier.

Having started in 1999 with 40 mother cows, Thomas is halfway through a three-generation breeding project that he expects to take seven years. The result will be five-eighths Angus and three-eighths Brahman -- and comfortable basking under the blazing sun.

The new bloodline, though not quite born, already has a name: the NMSU (for New Mexico State University) Line 1 Brangus.

-- Lee Hockstader

Milton Thomas, a cattle geneticist with New Mexico State University, shows off heifers being selected to create a new breed of cows suited to New Mexico's arid conditions.