Understanding Calf Ropes
Clear up calf roping confusion with these explanations of various rope materials, lays, lengths and more—plus learn how to take care of your calf ropes.
Fred Whitfield calf ropes at the National Finals Rodeo
Dan Hubbell Rodeo Images

Calf ropes are surprisingly complex with many different options available on the market today and it can be a bit overwhelming for first time rope shoppers or even those moving over from another discipline like team roping.

While it’s important to understand the terminology surrounding calf ropes when making purchasing decisions, in the end, much of the final choice comes down to personal preferences and simply, what feels best to the roper.

Here’s how it all breaks down and remember that a rope’s durability, weather resistance, amount of stretch and maintenance all play into the final choice as well.

Calf Rope Materials

Polygrass Ropes— The closest thing on the market to old time straight grass ropes, which were actually made of manila, polygrass ropes offer the feel that many ropers like in grass ropes. They have little stretch and are durable but are affected much more by the weather than other ropes and will feel stiffer in the winter and softer in the summer.

Poly Ropes—Poly ropes are made either of polyester fibers or polypropylene fibers. The latter generally has a lead core around which the strands of the rope are twisted while the core of polyester ropes generally have a solid braided core.

Poly ropes are considered more durable and consistent than ropes made with other materials, with less chance of significant change to the feel or stiffness of the rope from hot to cold weather.

Syngrass Ropes—Similar to poly grass with its softer feel, syngrass ropes are made with synthetic materials treated with a special blend of oils. The oils give them more body than polygrass ropes.


Calf ropes come in various diameters, which is the thickness of the rope. The diameter of the rope is measured in millimeters and may range from 9.0 to 11.0 in half and quarter increments depending on the manufacturer. Obviously, the bigger the diameter, the more weight the rope will have.


After years of only making three-strand ropes, calf rope manufacturers are now offering more options for those who like the tighter feel of 4- and 5-strand ropes. In general, more strands offer less bounce in the loop which can help increase accuracy and improve quickness. Likewise, many ropes also now have cores around which the strands are twisted, leading to increased stability in the rope which allows it to rebound to its natural shape after use.


The lay of the rope is its softness or stiffness. Because the materials used for calf ropes are more flexible than the nylon associated with team ropes, calf ropes generally only come in two lays, soft and extra soft.


Most calf ropes on the market come in the range of 25’ to 30’. Some ropers will cut their ropes to suit their individual wants on length.


No matter which type of rope bought, maintenance is a key factor in the longevity of the rope. Ropes should be stored in a can or bag to protect them and many manufacturers recommend keeping them in powder to help absorb any humidity. It’s also crucial to store ropes with the eye of the honda straight.

Picture of Jolee Jordan

Jolee Jordan

Jolee Jordan served as the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association Roping Director for over 25 years. Jordan is an NFR qualifier in the barrel racing and was the first female team roper to qualify for the PRCA’s Turquoise Circuit Finals. Jordan has been a long-time contributor to The Team Roping Journal Magazine and brings her unique perspective to CalfRoping.com.