How to Care for Roping Steers

How to Care for Roping Steers

Avoid burnout in roping cattle and increase longevity with these tips from AQHA World Champion Heeler Nick Sarchett and Temple Grandin, Ph.D.

header and heeler break from roping box with chute of steers (Credit: Journal)

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By Julie Mankin with Tara Matsler 

Whether you’re training a rope horse or preparing for competition, there are other things you can do to keep your practice cattle performing well for a longer period of time. Heeler Nick Sarchett, an AQHA world champion and 1996 National Finals Rodeo qualifier, often keeps his practice cattle for up to a year. His success is all in cattle management. 

Roping Cattle Management Tips

  • Don’t dally. Dallying wears a steer out and makes him sour. But be aware that if you never dally, steers can start “running up the rope,” which doesn’t give the heeler a corner. So now and then, dallying is OK.
  • Limit your runs. A good rule of thumb for a steer is no more than three to four trips through the chute per day.
  • Keep them in shape. You don’t want your steers to stand around for a handful of days. They can get out of shape and lazy, then they don’t want to try. If they’re never chased, they don’t perform as well.
  • Read your steers. When it gets so you’re changing your roping – or riding your horse differently – to be able to catch your practice steers, that’s a sign you need new steers.
  • Consider Corriente. The magic of buying roping steers is in purebred Corriente cattle. Corriente are bred in Mexico and imported to the United States. Nick says Corrientes are easier to break in, more predictable after you break them in and last longer.
  • Feed ’em up. One of the surest ways to get longevity out of practice cattle is by investing in good feed. Cheap hay will mean poor performance from your practice herd. It’s not the way to save money.

And just how good does Nick treat his practice steers?

“I feed my steers the same hay I feed my No. 1 horse,” says Nick. “You want your cattle to perform well, so if you feed them alfalfa, they’ll feel better and want to do their job better. You have a lot of money invested in good steers for quality practice, so treat them like you treat your good horse.”

Low Stress Cattle Handling

In addition to overall management, the longevity of roping cattle can be lengthened by eliminating stressors when they are being roped. In particular, use chutes, advises cattle behavior expert Temple Grandin, Ph.D. Chutes are Temple’s tried-and-true approach to cattle handling.

Use Quiet Chutes

She suggests pneumatic or hydraulic control valves to eliminate sudden slamming noises. Keep in mind, though, that studies have confirmed that cattle have ears that are more sensitive to higher frequencies than human ears, so a high-pitched whine from a hydraulic line can be more agitating to steers than the low-pitched rumble of manual gears.

There are a few upgrade options you can do to quiet your chutes:

  • Equip your hydraulic air exhaust with a silencer, or pipe it further away.
  • Old-fashioned metal chutes? Silence the clanging and banging with rubber pads and use plastic guides on moving parts.

Temple also suggests moving cattle without prods whenever possible.

Keep in mind that cattle have a basic behavioral tendency to move from a darker area toward a more brightly illuminated area. For that reason, they may balk at moving into an area of high-contrast lighting. Removing reflections, air drafts and people up ahead can all help reduce the need for prods when moving cattle.

Keeping Cattle Calm and Stress Free While Roping

Here are some other key principles she recommends for keeping cattle calm, stress-free and moving:

  • Use lead-up chutes with solid sides that prevent them from seeing people.
  • Provide cattle a view of an escape pathway up ahead, which leads them forward.
  • Provide non-slip flooring in your lead-up pathways.
  • Use gates that open and close with slow, steady motions versus sudden or jerky ones.
  • Allow cattle to see other animals within touching distance at all times.
  • Minimize noise, especially high-pitched noise.

Regardless of how serious you are about your roping pursuits, when you practice with better roping steers, the better your skills will become – and the more highly trained your horses will become.