Many of today’s farsighted ranchers realize that successful cattle production is most accurately assessed by total income in conjunction with an analysis of the cost of production and impact on the land. Beef producers often boast about weaning weights without reference to conception rate, calving losses, deteriorating range conditions and feed, medicine, and labor expenses. A perceptive cattle producer is wise to aim for a cowherd which weans healthy calves, has suffered no loss, stress, or ill health, has required a minimum of care and expense and has foraged widely on diverse vegetation. Corrientes fit the vision of the future rancher in that they are highly productive, inexpensive to care for, and resourceful foragers that utilize and benefit the environment as naturally as wildlife.
These traits are especially advantageous to producers who want to maximize production from their ranch, and still, maintain plant diversity and promote sound ecology. While most Corriente breeders’ major market is for sports cattle, their value as productive range cattle, unspoiled by over-domestication, cannot be overlooked.
Studies have shown that Corriente grazing habits are beneficial for our rangelands. Wherever Corriente has been, there are fewer weeds, prickly pear, and mesquite. Wherever Corriente has been, the native bunch grasses have been beneficially grazed, but not nibbled down to the dirt. With their small frames (800 lbs compared to 1200 lbs with European beef breeds), Corriente doesn’t wreak havoc with soft or muddy areas, such as around water holes. Overall, Corriente cattle have a positive, improving effect wherever they are pastured.
Further Reading: USDA Study: A Comparison of Grazing Behavior Between Desert Adapted Mexican Criollo (Corriente) Cattle and Temperate British Breeds Using Two Diverse Landscapes In New Mexico and Chihuahua
Additionally, many beef cattle producers use Corriente bulls on first calf heifers for calving ease, and then put the crossblood heifers back in their herd to increase fertility, foraging efficiency and hardiness. The preservation of the Corriente is not simply about raising small cattle with horns for the expanding sports market. It is an effort to preserve an important resource for the cattle industry; an effort not to lose nature’s best cattle.
The desired conformation for Corriente reflects their use for sports as well as the traditional characteristics as they evolved to survive and thrive. Many characteristics typical of beef breeds are not desirable.
Corriente is small, trim cattle, with sufficient bone and strength for easy action and endurance. Generally, a mature bull weighs less than 1,000 pounds, and a mature cow less than 800 pounds. The cattle are narrow with high withers and a short, peaked rump. They have a clean dewlap, deep girth, and high flank. Cows have neat, tight, trouble-free udders with small to moderate teats, and produce rich milk. Bulls have a tight sheath. A high, bushy tail switch and pronounced mane are notable characteristics. Any color is acceptable, except pure white with no pigmentation whatsoever. The head is “V” shaped, never boxy and square nor excessively long. The horns begin curving at approximately the tips of the ears and then curve forward, or forward and upward. A 12-month-old bull’s horns should show at least 6” of length and 6” of base circumference, with 7” to 8” more typical. At this age, the horns may be nearly straight, but soon develop a curve so that the animal can still go through a roping chute easily as a two-year-old. Thus, extreme length is not considered ideal. Many breeders report especially vigorous horn growth at approximately 10 to 12 months of age, or two to three months after weaning. Most operations aim to produce ready-to-rope steers at 12 to 14 months of age.
History of Corriente
The Corriente can be traced back to the first cattle brought to the new world by the Spanish as early as 1493. These cattle were hardy breeds chosen especially to withstand the ocean crossing and adapt to their new land. They were brought to the West Indies and South Florida, as well as Central and South America. Over the centuries the descendants of these cattle were bred for different purposes – milk, meat, and draft animals. They also adapted through natural selection to the various regions in which they lived. Eventually, their descendants spread across the southern U.S. and up the coast of California.
In the early 1800s, European and other breeds were introduced to the new world, and by the 1900s many ranchers in the Americas were upgrading their herds with modern beef cattle. Nearly pure descendants of the original Spanish cattle almost disappeared, but some managed to survive with little human care or intervention in remote areas of Central and South America, and in very limited numbers in some areas of the southern U.S.
Today there is evidence of a worldwide growing interest in preserving various strains of these hardy, native cattle. Cattle associations in Spain, South America, and Florida are making efforts similar to the N.A.C.A. to recognize their attributes, though few actually support registries.
The name 'Corriente' in Central and South America, the various descendants of the early Spanish cattle are generally referred to as 'Criollo'. In parts of northern Mexico, they are often called 'Corriente', although this term is frequently used for any small cattle of indiscriminate breeding and not just for the type of cattle recognized by the N.A.C.A. 'Corriente' became the most common term used at the border to refer to the cattle purchased for rodeo use. Consequently, most North American cattlemen, ropers, and doggers know this name, and it was chosen by the founders of the N.A.C.A. to be used for this registry. John E. Rouse, in his book, World Cattle, Vol. III, Cattle of North America, explains the names used in Mexico.
Descendants of the original Spanish cattle, little influenced by modern breeds, are now seen only in the remote parts of the country. These are generally known as Criollo cattle, although in the state of Sonora the term Corriente is more common, and in Baja California, the word Chinampo is used. All these terms, meaning “common cattle” or “cattle of the country” are applied to more or less pure descendants of the Spanish cattle, as well as to the indiscriminate mixtures of these and more recently introduced breeds. In Florida, the few remaining small, native cattle – cousins of the Mexican Corriente are called Scrub cattle or Cracker cattle, and similar cattle in Louisiana are called Swamp cattle.
Regardless of the name, the N.A.C.A. has made great inroads toward defining, describing, and preserving these cattle as a specific breed.