Rodeos and livestock shows are a common part of life in many parts of the United States, but if there is one special event of this kind, it is the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which just ended its 75th annual run. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, there is a lot of fun to be had at the show, but it is also a place for some serious business.
For three weeks every year, Houston's Reliant stadium and event center is taken over by animals of all kinds, even some that are not real.
But the main stars are the various breeds of cattle.
Breeders come from around the world to find stock that can enhance their herds.
Cattle breeder Shep Batson brought some of his prize stock of Brahman cattle over from his farm in Wiggins, Mississippi so that he could show them off to potential foreign buyers. "That is why we are here in Houston, because we have a lot of international guests that come here and they see what you have and if they like it then it goes from there."
Sales of live animals to foreign visitors have been reduced somewhat by bans on U.S. cattle imports imposed by some nations after the most recent mad cow disease scare.
Shep Batson says there are other ways for breeders to deal. "The borders are not open yet for live animals, but you can ship semen and embryos across the borders. So that is where most of our foreign sales is, or all of our foreign sales right now is in semen and embryos," he explains.
People came from more than 50 nations for this year's Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The 2,000-some international visitors spent more than $5 million on livestock alone.
Here, they can also meet people from rural America and see some of their prize stock up close.
Paul Maulsby is director of cattle operations at Texas A & M University. He is one of the expert judges who determine which animals go away with prizes. He looks for proper bone structure, musculature and other attributes.
He says the reputation of the Houston show is growing worldwide. "In terms of foreign representation of people, there is probably more here than at any other stock show in the United States of America," he asserts. "You will see people from South America, Australia, different parts of Asia, Scotland, England, all over."
Maulsby says Houston is also a good place for breeders to find cattle with the genetic makeup they need to keep their herds hardy and profitable. "If you look at it from a perspective of open cattle or cattle that are owned by breeders, it is an opportunity to come to a location, where there are large groups of people that are looking at genetics to put into their own program," he explains.
Animals that win prizes here can command prices in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, making the trip to Houston well worthwhile for many farm and ranch families.