Calf roping or tiedown roping originated as a routine, necessary task performed by genuine cowboys. It involves the skills necessary to collect and hold very young calves that need to be branded, given vaccinations or doctored.
How Is Rodeo Calf Roping Different?
Although the skills used are the same, the timed rodeo event which is now called tiedown roping (as a direct result of public outcry about the cruelty of the event) bears little resemblance to the genuine, necessary task of calf roping. Working cowboys on the range rope valuable calves carefully and avoid harming them. This is absolutely untrue of the timed rodeo event.
In rodeo calf roping, a three-month-old calf is held in a chute next to the arena and then goaded to run out into the arena. It is allowed to get a premeasured head start and then it is pursued by a cowgirl or cowboy on horseback.
The calf is lassoed around the neck and often yanked off the ground. The cowboy dismounts, and the horse remains in place and backs as needed to keep the rope (which is secured to the saddle horn) taut at all times.
Sometimes the calf falls down. The rider dismounts, runs to the calf and if it is not yet down, picks it up and throws it down on its side. If the calf is already down, the rider must wait until the calf gets up and then throw it down.
Once the calf has been thrown down, the rider ties three of the animal’s legs together with a 6 foot cord called “pigging string” which is carried in the contestant’s teeth. This done, the contestant raises his or her hands to signal to the judge that the three-month-old calf has been successfully subdued.
In the life of a real cowboy, this necessary task could take several minutes and is done carefully to avoid hurting the valuable calf. In the life of a rodeo cowboy, it should be done in under ten seconds for the amusement of the audience and to win points and prizes for the “cowboy”. Seven seconds is standard, with six being a sought after goal.
It is worth noting that a well-trained calf roping horse should only keep the rope taut and should not drag the calf, but this is not always the case. Sometimes calves are dragged and injured. This may cause the contestant to lose points or be disqualified, but this provides no solace to the calf.
Does Event Calf Roping Really Hurt The Calves?
A study aimed at determining exactly how much stress was caused to calves by calf roping involved measuring stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenalin) both in calves that were familiar with calf roping and in those unfamiliar with the event.
Measurement of the stress hormones were taken in the experienced calves before and after roping events. The same measurements were taken in naïve calves before and after being marshaled across the arena by a rider on horseback.
Both groups of calves experienced elevated levels of stress hormones as a result of these experiences. The real difference in the two groups was seen in their behavior. The calves who knew about calf roping exhibited a great deal of fear and ran as quickly as they could across the arena. The calves who had never been roped moved calmly and slowly across the arena but were, nonetheless, stressed.
Aside from the results of this experiment, common sense and our own eyes and ears tell us that rodeo calf roping is indeed injurious to calves. If the actions taken in calf roping – clotheslining, body slamming and trussing with a rope – were done to any other baby animal, the cruelty would be obvious, and the activity would not be permitted.
The injuries to calves used in calf roping as well as other roughstock used in rodeo events such as steer roping, bull riding and bronc riding are plain to see. These animals suffer a wide variety of injuries ranging from broken limbs, backs and necks to aneurysms and heart attacks. If they are able to avoid injury, they do eventually wear out and then they are sent to slaughter.
Doctor C.G. Haber was a veterinarian who also worked as a federal meat inspector for three decades. He has been quoted as saying that he had seen roughstock brought to slaughter with multiple ribs broken away from the spine, lungs punctured by broken ribs and gallons of blood (2 to 3) accumulated under skin that had become detached due to trauma.
Calf Roping Cruelty
Should You Participate In Calf Roping?
Calf roping is steeped in “tradition and culture”, and although there have been many efforts to regulate it (along with other rodeo roughstock events) there has also been quite a bit of official resistance.
If you are an actual cowboy or cowgirl working your valuable cattle on the range, you may need to carefully rope calves from time-to-time for branding, administering medication and taking care of other necessary tasks. If this is the case, you should certainly do that.
It’s important to understand that, even if the event continues with cruelty intact, individual rodeo contestants are free to choose not to support that cruelty. If you are a rodeo cowboy or cowgirl intent on winning points and prizes and entertaining an audience, choose other events. Show some ethics, have a heart and refrain from calf roping.