Spin to Win Rodeo - - Competitive Edge -


If a roper wants to start the sum­mer with freshies—ei­ther na­tive or M-branded—they of­ten take the plunge and buy their own set of steers. Rop­ing cat­tle prices are driven off the cat­tle mar­ket, and when the cat­tle mar­ket goes up, the rop­ing cat­tle fol­low—but they don’t come down as fast. When rop­ing cat­tle prices peaked at about $1,200 in 2015, most rop­ers opted to lease, but to­day, bro­kers are see­ing more team rop­ers buy­ing their own steers than in re­cent years.

With rop­ing cat­tle prices steady this year around $650 a head, some choose to try their luck with the sale barn come fall. A steer’s sal­vage value will only be about $350 to $400 at the sale barn, Yost said, so rop­ers who want to buy their cat­tle need to take that into con­sid­er­a­tion right off the bat.

“Now that they cost $575 to $650, I think you can get your money out of those cat­tle,” said New Mex­ico cat­tle bro­ker Matt Sanchez, who crosses be­tween 6,200 and 8,500 head of M-branded cat­tle an­nu­ally. “The re­sale value, es­pe­cially as far as heifers, there’s a mar­ket that will hold your money to­gether. Sal­vage value is be­tween $.70 and $.80 a pound on a 600-pound steer. Re­tail to my large cus­tomers—you keep them un­der a $200 dif­fer­ence. That steer has to make up that $200 run­ning down the arena plus the cost of own­er­ship, for the pro­duc­ers. They lose $200 a head just by own­ing them. He’s got to make up that $200, make up the cost of own­ing him plus make a profit. In the pro­ducer world, my job as the bro­ker is to make sure my pro­duc­ers have that op­por­tu­nity—a fight­ing chance any­way.”

Recre­ational rop­ers who buy their own prac­tice cat­tle should ex­pect to lose more than $200 per head, Sanchez said. That in­vest­ment can be smart, though, for higher-num­bered rop­ers who are putting their money down at big­ger jack­pots that rope fresh cat­tle.

“A higher-end roper, you’d need fresher cat­tle,” John Philipp, of Philipp Ranch, said. “The rop­ings you rope in, the cat­tle are fresher. The lower-num­bered guys need cat­tle bro­ken in, with a pretty good pat­tern to them.”

While the chance to own fresh cat­tle is one of the sell­ing points of buy­ing rather than leas­ing steers, Yost said to con­sider sav­ing money by buy­ing al­ready-bro­ken-in steers.

“When you buy fresh cat­tle, you’ll have 5 to 10 per­cent that are no good from day one. You have a 5-per­cent sav­ings if you buy ones bro­ken in that you’ve seen go.” WHEN TO BUY? Steers are of­ten cheaper in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary, Yost said, but then most rop­ers have to feed them for a few months be­fore weather al­lows rop­ers to put them to good use. In the spring, rodeo stock con­trac­tors jump into the mar­ket to fill their com­mit­tees’ needs, and in the fall, the World Se­ries of Team Rop­ing and United States Team Rop­ing Cham­pi­onship look for thou­sands of good steers for their year-end events, with the forces of sup­ply and de­mand driv­ing the price up then. NA­TIVE OR M-BRANDED? By the time Mex­i­can cat­tle make it to U.S. rop­ing pens, they’ve been han­dled sig­nif­i­cantly more than many na­tive cat­tle that are sim­ply gath­ered, branded, and sent to rope, Sanchez said. Mex­i­can cat­tle are brought down from the moun­tains of North­ern Chi­huahua, branded, TB tested, gath­ered again, branded again, tested again, and hauled around. Most Mex­i­can cat­tle, too, are older by the time they cross the bor­der but still small enough

to rope, Sanchez said, adding to their de­sir­abil­ity.

“Mex­i­can cat­tle have hard horns,” Sanchez said. “They have white horns with black tips. Their horns are pol­ished just like an elk pol­ishes the tip of its horns. They get pol­ished in the moun­tains go­ing through brush and trees. Those black tips are their calf tips. That’s in­dica­tive of age. They break in bet­ter. Their ma­ture horn struc­ture has a denser, de­vel­oped bone and horn struc­ture, which leads to bet­ter han­dles.”

But be­cause of fed­eral reg­u­la­tions, Mex­i­can cat­tle can be tougher to get rid of at the sale barn and re­quire more pa­per­work. Sanchez takes that bur­den away from most of his larger buy­ers, though, and trades pro­duc­ers out of their older rop­ers for fresh cat­tle.

Na­tive cat­tle, on the other hand, are easy to send back into the food chain at the sale barn. And when rop­ers stick with a con­sis­tent breeder, their chances of get­ting a con­sis­tent prod­uct im­prove dra­mat­i­cally.

“The na­tive are such a cross se­lec­tion of breed­ing pro­grams and ge­og­ra­phy—they can be in­con­sis­tent,” Yost said. “But if you buy from some­one like the Philipps, it’s hard to tell a na­tive from an M-branded steer.”

Philipp of­fers pro­duc­tion sales every Jan­uary, and is look­ing to pos­si­bly do more through­out the year. He’s been metic­u­lous about main­tain­ing the pu­rity of his herd.

“Na­tive cor­ri­entes are gen­er­ally eas­ier to get rid of when you’re done rop­ing them, and the ge­net­ics are just as good,” Philipp said. “I think cat­tle can last a year and a half. We’ve had some cat­tle we rope for two or three years—for colts and peo­ple learn­ing to rope. I think a lot has to do with mak­ing sure you break them in right. Keep cat­tle last­ing—they need to be strong. You’ve got to keep them strong or you can ruin them.”


Many lease pro­grams, like Allen’s, re­quire steers to come back at the end of the term hav­ing gained half a pound per day for the du­ra­tion of the lease. That shouldn’t be too hard, Allen said, and he’s yet to run into a cus­tomer who couldn’t make it hap­pen.

“I’ve yet to have to weigh a set back in,” Allen said. “Half-a-pound a day is nor­mal, ev­ery­day liv­ing.”

Zane Ed­mond­son, of Dodge City, Kansas, leases out close to 1,200 head of rop­ing cat­tle an­nu­ally. He said that half-pound-per day rule should be easy to meet, and that too many rop­ers don’t give enough con­sid­er­a­tion into how they feed and care for their steers.

“Ev­ery­body thinks they can get by on an old grass bale and a lick tub, but if you want them to last, you bet­ter feed them a lit­tle bet­ter than that,” Ed­mond­son said. “If a guy doesn’t treat them right and they don’t come back in good shape, they don’t get them again next year. Tak­ing the time to put the wraps on and take them off, not dal­ly­ing on a leg—not dal­ly­ing on them pe­riod. Don’t turn on bad head catches. As long as they’re hit­ting good you can bump them, but you don’t have to pull back on them every dang time.”

Crit­i­cal in all of this? Loy­alty.

“Get a cat­tle sup­plier and stay with them,” Yost said. “I typ­i­cally lease to the same guys year af­ter year. I don’t like those guys shop­ping me. Most of the guys I deal with are just good old friends. Find a guy you can deal with every year. The fly-by-night guys, stay with your guy. There’s not a lot of money in it any­way. If you charge less than $50 for a six­month lease, you can’t keep it up for too long.”


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