June 17, 2010

Raising bucking bulls

Since I'm in Montana, I've been doing a lot of rodeo stories. Here's a story I wrote about raising bucking bulls for rodeos.

The bull ride has been romanticized as eight seconds of glory. It’s a true test of someone’s meddle and toughness. Who’s brave enough to get on a bucking bull?

Have you ever stopped to think, “Where do the bulls come from?”

Watch one ride and you’ll realize they aren’t just your run of-the-mill cattle; they’re specifically breed to knock brave cowboys britches over tea kettle. Most bucking bulls are part of lineage, as they’re bred from other rodeo bulls and cross-bred with desirable strains. With over 100 different breeds of beef, there is certainly a large selection to choose from.


“Everyone has their own little idea on what they want,” Pete White, the co-owner of the Pistol Creek Rodeo Company out of Columbia Falls, said.
The Pistol Creek Rodeo Company is in the business of supplying rodeos with animals that have enough snort to provide a competitive and exciting event. For events, bulls have to be of good strength, health, agility and age. That means the finished product in the rodeo arena is the culmination of years of raising and taking care of these prized animals.

It’s also at the rodeo where the company gets to see how their investment panned out.

“You don’t know what you get until you buck them,” White said. “You’re going to have some perform better than others.”

While some get better over time, it is a somewhat risky proposition since it takes three years before the bulls are even bucked.

“It’s a gamble. You got to put money into them,” White said.

It’s no cheap endeavor taking care of the half-ton animals. It’s constant work, making sure the animals are properly fed and maintained. The rodeo company also has to deal with transportation costs.

“It’s no different from a cattle ranch,” White said. “That costs a lot of money going rodeo to rodeo.”

White, who also participates in rodeos, has the sport in his blood. So it’s only natural that he makes a living from it.

“I was born in to it,” White said.

His father was a third-generation butcher from Salmon, Id., and his mother is a member of the Salish tribe. The family-based company has been raising bucking bulls for 25 years.

“Our family has a really proud tradition of animals,” White said.

However, the bulls aren’t particularly hard to handle out in the field or when transporting them. In fact, they might be easier to deal with

“I believe they’re easier to handle,” White said. “They’re going to go on their own. You have to show them where to go.”

The Pistol Creek Rodeo Company maintains a stock of roughly 30 to 45 head, and stays busy traveling starting Memorial Day and going all the way to Labor Day.

”If you have a busy schedule, you can go to a rodeo every weekend,” White said.

Sometimes the company will produce the entire rodeo, including running the admissions and tournament aspect of the event. Other times they’ll just provide the animals. During Homesteader Days in Hot Springs last weekend, the company put on the entire rodeo for the three-day event.

They’ll also be instrumental for the production of Pioneer Days in Ronan at the end of July.

“There’s a gray area; you can do both,” White said.

Since White is so active in the rodeo community, it means that he’s not necessarily rooting for his bulls to buck off the cowboys.

“That’s not a fair assumption. Being involved in rodeo all my life, you develop a lot of comradery,” White said. “It’s really a family-based sport.”

Instead, White has found a much more balanced approach.

“You would like to see that animal be ridden and maybe the rodeo is won on that animal,” he said.

That doesn’t mean his bulls aren’t successful. In fact, they’ve had their bulls ridden in Professional Bull Riders (PBR) events in Tampa Bay, Tacoma and Missoula. They’ve even supplied bulls as far north as Alaska.

They were also the largest bull contractor for the 2009 Indian National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas, supplying eight head.

“It’s just being around good people, traveling and seeing the country,” White said. “And seeing good cowboys ride.”

With the success they’ve had already, it seems that White will be seeing a lot of good cowboys ride and they’ll probably be on a bull that he raised.

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