Rogers has worldly duties

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Former rodeo clown sailing overseas as international stockman

Damon Rogers has worked a lifetime to become a great cowboy, and it’s allowed him the opportunity to be an international stockman, helping care for livestock that are transported worldwide. He is aboard a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean with about 2,500 head of cattle en route to Turkey.

As far back as he can remember, Damon Rogers longed for the simple life filled with hard work and care for others.

“There was never a moment in time I ever wanted to be anything but a cowboy,” said Rogers, a former rodeo bullfighter and clown, PRCA gold card member and comedian who may have done many other jobs in his lifetime but still prefers his primary title. “I wanted to be just like my dad. All I want to be is a cowboy, and I’m getting to do it in a completely different environment.”

Rogers is aboard a ship that launched in Galveston Bay, then advanced into the Gulf of Mexico, has cruised around the Florida peninsula, past the Bahamas and is crossing the Atlantic Ocean. It will pass between Gibraltar and Morocco, through the Mediterranean Sea and on to Bandirma, Turkey, in the Sea of Marmara.

Seems like a strange place for a cowboy, but Rogers is one of just a handful of international stockmen. He’s has been hired to care for about 2,500 head of cattle en route to Turkey, a trip he’s taken before and a voyage he’s excited about again.

“I wanted to be a barrelman and a bullfighter, but I also wanted to be a good cowboy,” he said. “As I got older and more mature, I started learning more toward the cowboy end of it and the stockman end of it. There’s a difference between a cowboy and a stockman, and I quit wanting to be as much a cowboy when I realized I wanted to be a stockman.

“I worked for a lot of great stockmen. I worked for Buster Welch for a while, and once I learned what a stockman was, I realized that’s what I wanted to be. I’d watch these old men sneak in to a herd and sneak out with that one cow they’d sorted out, and I’d wonder how in the hell they did that. Kids have youthful exuberance, but once you get older, you learn how to have a little finesse.”

It comes from experience. Rogers began his as a youngster raised on an 87,000-acre ranch in Arizona, where his father trained horses for a successful family. He can recall gathering cattle with his dad before he was old enough to go to kindergarten. The passion burned deep within him. Now in his late 50s, he is doing things his own way and loving it.

“I grew up cowboying, and that’s all I ever wanted to be, then I fell into the clowning and entertainment world,” he said. “I was also a standup comedian, and I toured for a while. After 20-some years, I really just wanted to be a damned old cowboy.

“There were two things I remember my dad saying: ‘It takes a hell of a lot better cowboy to pen a bad SOB than to rope a bad SOB,’ and, ‘Chasing wild women and chasing wild cattle are a lot alike; the work begins when you catch one.’ ”

The tools Rogers had before come into play now. He runs a day crew out of his place northeast of Dallas, and he’ll take calls often of people needing a rascally bull recaptured or a herd on the highway. As he’s done all his life, Rogers has stepped out of the saddle and found adventures of other sorts. He’s written songs that have won awards, but there was always a pull to return to his roots.

A creative mind will continue to thrive no matter the experiences. In Rogers’ case, he drew inspiration for his comedy and songwriting while doing a bit of day work. It’s an expression of who he is, what his life’s been about and who he wants to be. It’s why being shipbound for a few weeks caring for cattle is right up his alley.

A divorce from his first wife was both a catalyst for his creativity and a chance to build on his reflections. He holds onto each memory as he builds toward the next phase of his life. Being an international stockman is simplistic at best, yet it’s a focused approach to doing a job he loves.

“There are very few of us that are approved on the boats,” Rogers said, noting that it’s a requirement that companies hire a person who can not only handle cattle but can also care for them if situations arise. “I take care of the cattle and make sure that as many as possible get there alive. I’ve had death losses as low as one, and I’ve been below 1 percent. A lot of that has to do with my crew.”

It’s much like a feedlot but in a more confined space. He’s traveling on a five-deck ship, which is designed to hold livestock. Between Rogers, a veterinarian and members of the ship’s crew, someone is continuously checking on the cattle.

“I’m being a cowboy, but I’m getting to do it in a completely different environment,” he said. “I want to promote the Western lifestyle, and I happen to be a passenger along the way. In doing that, I get to see historic places in the world.”

Taking this post is possible because he has a wife that can handle the heavy lifting while he’s gone. Nicole Martin is his partner, not only in life but also with their business, Gypsy Equine Training and Sales. While most of Americans live in an increasingly mechanical world, Martin and Rogers are comfortable in what they’ve built with one another.

“I’ve got the most awesome wife in the world, and I hate leaving her,” Rogers said. “She settled me down. She’s 17 years younger than me, and I’ve never been more scared of losing anything in my life, but I’m not going to do anything to lose this one. I got it right this time.”

They don’t need a lot, but his adventure nearly halfway across the world will reward them financially. That’s why Rogers does this, but there’s so much more to it for the man who makes a living by caring for animals.

“The money’s awesome, but the prestige of being one of the few guys that gets to do this is probably what I love the most,” he said. “Being able to do this sets us apart from all the others.”

Damon Rogers has fought bulls and entertained thousands of rodeo fans. He’s told jokes in night clubs and served as a pickup man, but his soul thrives on what it means to be a cowboy and a stockman.

It’s a life’s work, one he cherishes, whether he’s chasing a longhorn steer across a pasture in Texas or caring for a Holstein heifer on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.


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