judging a book by its cover

Reading Cattle, with Derrick Begay
There are no hard-and-fast rules on reading cattle. But there are guidelines you can try to learn, and the investment in that knowledge costs nothing but time.
Derrick Begay backed in the roping box.
Begay awaits the moment of truth: Will his steer run the way he thinks it will? | TRJ File Photo/Jamie Arviso

One time, I read an article on Joe Baumgartner, famous bullfighter, and he said reading cattle is something nobody can teach you. You have to be around cattle as much as you can, looking at them, watching them move through the herd, watching them eat. It’s just the same thing as when you go in an airport and watch people walk by—you wonder what they’re like, who they are, what they do for a living, what they’re thinking, and you can judge them. It’s the same thing in a steer pen—and you might not always be right.  

READ: Knowing When to Throw with Derrick Begay

Here’s a quick, not-fool-proof-at-all way of thinking about cattle: 

Flat horns: He might lower his head. 

Cow horns: He might roll his head back

M-Brand: They’re the best. 

Paints: Everyone wants a paint, or a Hereford with a white face. 

Straight black: Usually not the one you’d want if it’s a mixed herd. 

If I were to draw up a perfect steer when I go to check my draw, I’d want a cute eye, standing off over in the corner kind off by himself. I don’t want him as full-looking and full-bodied as the rest of the herd, and a dull hair coat is a good sign he will lope. I prefer a steer over a heifer, and the next best thing after that is a bull—a bull is always more sluggish and slower. 

If you have one that’s just standing there in the pen and doesn’t really want to move, that’s what you’d want. If you walk up to the pen and one’s pushing through the whole herd, that’s probably one you don’t want. 

READ: Humble Beginnings: Advice From Derrick Begay

Remember: Animals will fool you—so this is all just a judgment deal. If your steer meets all the guidelines to be a loper, and then they break and run, don’t hold it against me—these are more like guidelines, anyway. TRJ

Related Articles
Clay O'Brien Cooper heeling
The Best Teachers
Life Lessons Learned From Horses
Kory Koontz riding Remix
Better Together
Putting Horsemanship First
Jake Barnes and Clay O'Brien Cooper roping at the National Finals Rodeo
the age of wisdom
The Best of Times for Team Ropers
Ketch Kelton won his second straight Jr Ironman at the Lazy E in March.
At Home with
Ketch Kelton: Big Dreams, Small Towns and Good Horses
Cory Petska heeling on "Potter" at the 2024 Royal Crown Warm-Up Roping in Buckeye.
Remember this name
‘Potter’ Busy Doing Petska and Cervi Proud