HomeNews RSPCA renews calls to ban ‘frightening and distressing’ calf roping at rodeos

RSPCA renews calls to ban ‘frightening and distressing’ calf roping at rodeos

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RSPCA renews calls to ban ‘frightening and distressing’ calf roping at rodeos

The RSPCA is ramping up calls to ban calf roping events at all rodeos across Australia after a new study confirming high levels of fear and distress in the animals.   

Key points:

  • Calf roping or rope-and-tie is an event at rodeos in which a rider on horseback lassoes a calf and ties its legs together

  • It is seen as a controversial event and no longer in widespread practice on farms

  • The practice has effectively been banned at rodeos in South Australia and Victoria

The results of the joint study by the RSPCA and University of Sydney were recently published in the international animal welfare journal Animals.

Calf roping involves releasing a calf into the rodeo ring, while a competitor chases it on horseback with the intention of lassoing it around the neck.

The calf is then wrestled to the ground and has its legs tied together to immobilise it.

While no longer commonplace on Australian farms, the event is still widespread at rodeos in Australia.

Victoria and South Australia are the exception, where participating animals must be at least 200 kilograms.

Calves fall under that limit.

RSPCA senior scientific officer Di Evans co-authored the research, which differed from previous studies as it used video footage to measure distress.

Dr Di Evans standing in a paddock with her arm around a calf, with two more calves in the background.

Di Evans co-authored the new study.(Supplied: Dr Di Evans)

The new study found high levels of fear and distress in the calves at all stages of the roping event.

“Cattle are prey species, and they’re very good at masking pain, or any signs of distress because it attracts predators,” Dr Evans said.

“So when you see or hear signs such as bellowing, it’s really indicating there’s a significant problem happening.

“You’ve got a rope that’s obviously very tight around the neck area. There’s quite a few glands there [and] you’ve got the windpipe, which is extremely sensitive.”

The Australian Bushmen’s Campdraft and Rodeo Association previously said its competitors used Ropersmate, a device designed to reduce pressure on the calves’ necks.

State Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders said the use of this device showed rodeos were taking animal welfare concerns seriously.

He said the Australian Professional Rodeo Association and Australian Bushmen’s Campdraft and Rodeo Association were now exclusively using such devices to lessen pressure on calves’ throats.

But Dr Evans said she was not satisfied that devices such as the Ropersmate were proven to work as intended.

“If you really want to assess the impact of a device on a living animal, you need to assess what’s actually happening to calves who have had the device used and to calves who didn’t,” she said.

A calf lies prone on the ground with wild eyes, a rope around its neck and its legs tied

A calf with its legs tied during a rodeo event.(Supplied)

A ‘rarely used but necessary’ skill

In the state’s west at Narromine, some 40 kilometres west of Dubbo, long-time grazier and fourth-generation farmer Bruce Maynard said positive reinforcement techniques to train livestock reduced mental stress on the animals and increased their production capabilities. 

Despite expressing concern with the mental toll on livestock, he took a middle ground on the issue of calf roping.

Although calf roping and roping in general has fallen out of use in Australia, he said it was a skill that was still sometimes necessary in emergency situations.

“One can imagine if an animal gets loose in an urban area where there are no facilities, somebody with high-level skills to capture that animal is a useful asset,” he said.

He said when floods wreaked havoc last year, many graziers found their livestock stranded and being able to lasso individual animals and immobilise them could help save their lives in an emergency. 

Mr Maynard admitted that the rodeo event was distressing for calves, especially if they were subjected to it repeatedly, but he did not advocate for it to be banned.

“In terms of an industry-wide skill, it is something that we would not want to lose entirely,” he said.

“Nor would we want to either take the other end of the extreme and say it should be practised regularly.”

In response to the RSPCA’s renewed calls to ban the event, the Australian Professional Rodeo Association said it took animal welfare very seriously.

“In the sport of professional rodeo, cowboys share the limelight with the rodeo livestock. For a cowboy to compete at the highest level, the livestock also must be in peak condition. Both are athletes in their own right,” it said in a statement.

Posted , updated 

Source : ABC News (AU)

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