Even with all the wonderful practice aids on the team roping market today, there’s nothing like the real thing: roping steers. And while team roping is booming in popularity and participation, roping cattle never seem easy to find. Plus, if you’re going to own cattle, you’ve got to be prepared to house, care and eventually resell them. Luckily, most steers that are suited for team roping are also hardy and tough. Simply put, if you’re looking to buy roping steers they are easy keepers and resistant to many of the maladies that plague normal beef cattle. They can stand the cold and the heat, live on less feed than their beef-producing cousins and still give ropers months of practice if trained and treated correctly.
You don’t need a sprawling ranch to keep a set of practice roping cattle, nor do you need to be an expert in cattle care.
However, if you’ve built your arena, have enough hay and think that a set of roping steers are the next step, here’s an outline of the options available to you.
Keeping them Fresh
• Just like your horse, your steer is a high performance athlete. Feed your steer high quality hay. True Corrientes are not small because they are starved, they are genetically small. Your steer needs high quality feed and clean water to perform at his best.
• Don’t do anything to take away a steer’s enthusiasm. Never rope your steers completely out. Give them time to rest.
• Always use horn wraps, preferably those with ear protection. Sore horns and ears teach a steer to duck.
• No fishing on practice runs. The rope bouncing on the steer’s head will cause him to bob his head until the rope falls off. He has now learned to duck the rope. If the header doesn’t make a clean catch, flip the rope off the steer’s head.
• The header should avoid turning off on a neck catch. Neck catches choke the steer and create a dragger.
• Don’t stretch your steers. If the heeler wants to dally, then the header should un-dally and let the steer come tight with only his own weight on the heeler’s rope. The header can face without stretching the steer.
• Don’t come tight if only one hind leg is roped when practicing.
• Steer stopping is hard on trained steers, it teaches them to stop and drag. If you use a break-away rope you can build the steer’s confidence while still stopping and working your horse.
• If the heeler hasn’t caught by the time the header reaches the fence, call it good. The steer’s goal is to make it to the stripping chute. When you reach the fence and turn away from the stripping chute, he will learn to drag because he wants to go the opposite direction.
• Taking your rope off in the arena will teach your steers to quit after being caught and this will lead to dragging. If you take the rope off in the stripping chute, you teach them that the run is not over until they reach the stripping chute.
• Always take the horn wraps off when finished roping. The old adage is true, “If you don’t have time to take the horn wraps off, you don’t have time to rope.” Sweat and moisture under the horn wraps will make the steer’s head sore.
• Rather than taking the horn wraps off in the stripping chute, run them through one more time and take them off in the roping chute. This will reward them for coming up the alley.
• Pain and discomfort teach steers bad habits. If your steers have bad habits, look at how you have treated them and ask yourself what happened to make them that way. Well-trained steers that are treated right will last a long time.
Corriente is the most recognized breed for bovine sporting use. Their ancestry traces back to the original herds brought to Central and North America by the Spanish in the late 1400s. In Mexico and other parts of Central and South America, descendants of the early Spanish cattle are generally referred to as Criollo. While in other parts, the word Chinampo is used. Near the U.S. border, Corriente is the term of choice, yet all of these words are loosely translate to “cattle of the country” and describe the same animals that have been largely isolated from other European or Brahman breeds in their bloodlines.
Of course, somewhere in their ancestry the Texas Longhorn and Corriente were the same. While there is no breaking point in their lineage, the original difference is that the Texas Longhorns were found north of the Rio Grande and Corrientes south.
Since the end of the Civil War, the two somewhat similar breeds have been managed completely differently with completely different results. On the south side of the border, less care was given over the past 150 years and a hardier, smaller breed developed. In Texas and the rest of the U.S. cross-breeding, better feed and care resulted in a bigger, more domesticated breed.
Today, there are two organizations each dedicated to preserving the original Spanish bloodlines that the Longhorn and Corriente trace back to.
The North American Corriente Association is probably the one association most geared toward creating roping cattle.
“Our purpose since the very beginning is to preserve and promote,” said Mel Gnatkowski, President of the NACA. “So our goal is to raise the very best animals we can raise and turn around and sell them to people who are or aren’t interested in registering them.”
To that end, the NACA holds national and regional shows. The traditional cattlemen might think a Corriente show would be laughable: team ropers leading show cattle in on halters. But it’s not like that at all. In fact, it’s a roping. Cattle are judged first on confirmation. The next day, the cattle are roped (by No. 6 and up ropers) and judged on their performance. The final day is a breeders and members roping.
“The purpose for the breeders is to showcase their cattle, let people see them and buy them,” said Gnatkowski. “The flip side of it is that it has really worked for people to come in and see what really works well. And over the past 10 years I’ve really seen the uniformity and the quality of the cattle increase. The shows have gotten incredibly tough to win. A yearling class will have 40-60 head in it and basically they’ll just look identical. It’s really hard to pick them out. The competition is fierce.”
Furthermore, the association promotes its nearly 800 active members across the U.S. via its Web site, www.corrientecattle.org. Ropers can find a purebred raiser near them easily and quickly whether they’re looking for breeding stock or roping stock.
Most NACA members’ prices are competitive with Mexican cattle prices, however, the further away from the border, the more you may have to pay for either.
The Cattleman’s Texas Longhorn Registry is also dedicated to only registering cattle of Spanish origin with the use of blood typing and it refutes the common belief that Longhorns are bad to rope. The breeders who belong to the CTLR must pass strict breed standards to ensure that only the highest quality cattle are registered.
“Any evidence of cross breeding and they’re rejected,” explained Schuyler Wight, a director for the CTLR. “We just raise pure cattle. We have some cattle that are registered in the NACA. What ruined the Longhorn for roping was that other associations registered anything that had horns, so there are a lot of those cattle in other associations that show evidence of Hereford breeding, Watusi or other things and it doesn’t take much of that outside blood to make those cattle sull-up and sorry to rope.”
By breeding horned cattle with no evidence of impurities from dairy, Hereford or other breeds, the CTLR feels they are able to offer cattle that will perform on a level equal to Mexican or NACA cattle. For more information, you can visit www.ctlr.org.
Pros and Cons of Domestic Cattle
The major drawbacks to domestically raised Corrientes, Mexican Corriente importers will tell you, is that their bodies outgrow their horns because they are usually in much better country and receive much better care on this side of the border. Of course, as has been discussed, the problems Corriente breeders and brokers see in Longhorns is that they sour too quickly.
On the other hand, cattle born in the U.S. aren’t subject to TB testing and the health problems that their Mexican cousins are. Regardless of the threat of TB, the U.S. government is developing new standards by which to test cattle. Therefore, it could become increasingly costly to get Mexican cattle across the border.
Training Your Roping Steers
• Start by showing the steer where home is. In groups of four or five, run the steers through the chute, down the arena, into the catch pen and back up the alley. Make three or four circles until they know how to get out of the arena.
• Next circle them a couple of times, making them go through the stripping chute.
• The first couple of times a steer is caught, steer-stop him before he is heeled.
• Then release them individually out of the chute with a header and heeler following them all of the way out of the arena.
• Train your steers with both the header and heeler in the proper position to teach your steer to run straight.
• Track fresh steers a half or two-thirds of the way down the arena before you catch them and they will have more heart and last longer after they are trained. A steer that is caught just out of the chute will give up and quit running.
Most Mexican roping steers are born and raised in Mexico until their horns are big enough to rope. Leonard Lansburgh, owner of Rocky Mountain Cattle Moovers, has been raising his own herd in Mexico, as well as buying other herds south of the border for sale in the U.S., for over 10 years.
“I have some cows and calves,” said Lansburgh, “but most of my business is buying little ones and keeping them until they’re ready to cross. The best steer is one that’s been over here for a month or month and a half that’s got some condition on them.
“Generally the perception in the industry is that Corrientes last longer,” he says. “They’re raised in an environment that is tougher, their breeding results in more stamina than a Longhorn.”
The process to prepare them for roping is not a simple one. First, they must be castrated and TB tested. Then importers must file papers with the Mexican authorities for export as well as with the U.S. for an import permit. Then, the day before the cattle cross, a Mexican and U.S. vet each inspect the cattle one-by-one. About 1 percent is culled.
“Cattle that come in from the border are really inspected thoroughly,” said Lansburgh. “Probably more than cattle born in
this country. Health-wise I’d feel more comfortable with a Mexican import.”
Then Lansburgh conditions the cattle. Some of his customers pick them up at the border, however, he ships cattle to pick-up locations from California to Mississippi for sale or lease.
The final option for roping steers is to lease them. More and more ranchers and cattlemen are taking advantage of their ranchland to provide cattle for the booming team roping industry through rental.
Rick Hanson of Abilene, Texas, runs about 1,700 head of Corrientes and has been leasing cattle for 20 years with considerable success from Texas to Montana and all points in between.
“What makes it work is that people only need the cattle for a defined period of time,” he said. “Also, some people don’t have the borrowing capacity to own the
cattle. They have the knowledge and ability to make money with the cattle, but they don’t have the ability to own the cattle, so leasing is ideal. A third reason is for budgeting purposes. If you’ve ever owned any of these cattle, you’re going to lose money, the question is just how much. The next reason is budgeting. With leasing, you know exactly how much you’ll spend. Probably the biggest reason people keep doing business with us is we trade out their unusable cattle. When you own, you’re stuck with them.”
Hanson uses only Mexican cattle, he believes domestic Corrientes outgrow their horns too fast and that Longhorns sour out too fast. However, there is a curve to preparing Mexican cattle before using them.
“We found out that we had to get them ready to go be roped. They weren’t stout enough,” Hanson explained. “We learned a long time ago to put these cattle on free choice alfalfa, free choice medicated feed pellets so before they go out on lease they are healthy and strong, have had all their shots and are ready to go to work the day they leave. That’s another advantage of leasing over owning is all of that has already been done by the time the roper has the cattle.”
However, the health of the cattle is one responsibility a leasee must agree to. Most lease agreements require the roper to be responsible for the cattle’s health while at their house and certain penalties apply for sick or dead cattle. STW