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March 13, 2011

Houston Livestock Show Draws International Crowd

by Greg Flakus

Cowboys, rodeos and prized cattle attract ranchers and other visitors to the annual event

The big show every evening at the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is the rodeo competition which includes everything from bronco riding to chuck wagon racing. There's also the event for young ranch hands called the Calf Scramble, where young kids and young cows pull each other to the finish line.

But the real business of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is down in the pens and show area, where ranchers bring their prized animals for judging. Ranchers interested in breeding stock attend these shows, looking to make deals that will improve their stock back home.

Global draw

The three-week-long event attracts more than two million visitors each year, not only from Texas and other parts of the United States, but from all over the world. Ranchers came from Mexico's southern state of Tabasco to look at Brahman, or Zebu, stock.

"Our climate is tropical and humid so we need to add the blood of the Zebu to our cattle," says Gustavo Lastra, who came to buy. The Brahman, originally from India, adapts well to tropical zones and is popular with ranchers from South America as well.

Buying and transporting an animal can be expensive, so many ranchers take a different approach. "What we are trying to take back to improve our cattle is semen and embryos," says Humberto Belloso of Venezuela.

A taste of Texas

Foreign visitors to the Livestock Show are entertained at social events with healthy servings of the local cuisine, including barbecue and the Texas version of Mexican food. It's a place to wrangle some lunch and make a deal.

"They love it," says Bert Marmorato, who serves on the event's international welcoming committee. "They love all the stuff. They can't believe all the food that's here and how big the arena is and how many people come here for the concerts and everything. It's great."

While most of the estimated 10,000 international visitors come from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, there are also people from much further away. One group of 10 came from Thailand, but only one is a stock breeder.

"Apart from me and my wife, all of them are government officials," says the breeder.

Increased demand

As demand for meat grows in Asia, governments there are looking to improve their own cattle-raising industries. However, not everyone from abroad came to the event for breeding stock. Some came to sell their products and services.

Three Israeli companies working with water resource management and animal genetics are on hand. The Autentica company offers genetic tracing using cattle DNA.

"Autentica provides genetic service for cattle," says Guy Evron, project manager for Autentica. "It does parental identification and it does traceability for food safety reasons."

But even those who attend primarily for business say they love to spend their free time mingling with the cowboys and watching them ride.