Calf roping event turns Michigan pasture into the Wild West

Julia Baratta, Freelance Writer

BURR OAK, MI -- Every spring, Harley Hostetler of Burr Oak, MI, turns an ordinary pasture into a scene from the Old West. An annual rite of passage for his calves becomes a rodeo of sorts with the help of a few friends and their horses. The three guys were Mark Lambright, Marlin Yoder, and Austin Borg and they came up from the Shipshewana, IN, area.

“I usually do this when they (the calves) are around 100 pounds,” Hostetler said. “This year it is a little later so they are pushing 250 pounds.” The purpose of the get-together is to practice roping calves, spend some time with friends, tag the animals and band, or castrate, the bull calves.

Hostetler began the evening by herding the cows and calves to the front pastures. After the livestock was moved, the separating of the mothers and babies was next. This was obviously a little more difficult as the animals were resistant to being apart. When the cutting, or separating, was completed, he then moved the cows to another pen farther from the babies.

“These practices are all about safety,” Hostetler said. “When working with the calves and they holler, the cows are not going to be apart from their babies and a fence will not stop them.”

As the men swung their lariats and made efforts to catch the animals with the ropes, there was calmness in the air. Sometimes there was success and a calf was caught, and sometimes a limb from the trees in the fencerow was in the rope. The animals were relaxed enough at times to lie down in the pasture.

Once a calf was roped, an attempt was made to catch the other end. The men wanted to tie one front leg separate and the two back legs together so they could work on the animal in a safer environment. If the head was caught, the back legs were secured and the lariat was removed from the head and moved to one of the front legs. The ties are gently pulled by the horses as the ends are tied to the saddle horns. Once the animal was safely tied, Hostetler tagged the ears and performed a banding, if necessary.

The thirteen calves that participated in the ‘rodeo’ were born on Hostetler’s farm. In addition, he cares for 20 crossbred Angus cows that he raises on pasture. The evening ended with four tired and satisfied cowpokes enjoying this Midwestern ‘home on the range’.

Two calves from Harley Hostetler’s farm watch as the calf ropers work with another calf. The one on the left is tagged and the other is waiting for his turn.
Harley Hostetler catches one of the calves during the calf roping at his farm in Michigan.
Harley Hostetler starts to swing his lariat in anticipation as he and some friends had a calf roping at his farm in Michigan.
Harley Hostetler watches as the cows are being moved to another pasture area.