Calgary Stampede Rodeo, Animal Welfare, and Livestock Producer Reaction


Recently a friend in Wyoming emailed me a link from a Canadian source claiming that rodeo livestock are violently mistreated and encouraging all travelers to avoid rodeos and instead “visit the country fairs that usually accompany them.” Much of the support for these claims comes from the Vancouver and Canadian Humane Societies. With Canada’s Calgary Stampede taking place next month, I thought it appropriate to touch on the subject.

The following are points of concern listed in the article.

Fear, pain and stress: Animal protection groups argue that rodeo exploits animals’ reaction to pain, fear and stress. This becomes obvious when one asks questions such as: Why would a calf or bull charge at full speed out of a chute into an arena full of people? (Answer: they are kicked, have their tails twisted or are even given electric shocks.)

Bare back, animal welfare issues at rodeosWhat makes rodeo horses and bulls buck? (Answer: A device called a flank strap is tied around the animals’ hindquarters, causing irritation and stress until the strap is released.) Animal activists contend that, were such methods used to motivate dogs in dog agility competitions, there would be a public outcry. Even without physical coercion, the noise, alien surroundings and stress of being chased can cause extreme fear. The distinguished animal behaviourist, Dr. Temple Grandin (who designs slaughterhouses for the meat industry, so no bleeding heart), has argued that fear is “so bad” for animals that it is worse than pain.

Injuries and deaths: Rodeo animals are injured or killed in rodeos regularly. It was the death of a calf that prompted changes at the Cloverdale Rodeo in 2006. It had been preceded by the death of a steer in 2004 (a cowboy broke its neck during the steer wrestling event). It is difficult to get accurate figures on rodeo deaths and injuries but anti-rodeo activists have compiled a list of incidents from the Calgary Stampede, which shows that since 1986 more than 40 animals were killed or had to be euthanized due to injury. Animal advocates also argue that many painful injuries go unnoticed and unrecorded because bruising and internal bleeding are difficult to see.

Condoning of violence and animal abuse: Aside from what rodeo does to animals, there is also the question of what it does to us. That is, what message does rodeo give to the public, especially children? Most civilized societies rank kindness to animals amongst the highest behavioural values of humankind. From St. Francis of Assisi to Gandhi to the Dalai Lama, great moral figures have cited compassion toward animals as an essential human virtue. Animal advocates say no one could argue that rodeo demonstrates kindness or compassion to animals. On the contrary, they say, rodeo explicitly condones and glorifies violence and brutality toward animals – surely an undesirable message for children.

Later the article discusses specific events of concern in rodeo. Then they mentioned that despite claims from the rodeo industry the flank strap of bucking stock does inflict pain and that bucking is not a natural behavior. I’d like to invite them out to my ranch to check cows any day of the week. I’ll make a bet that there will be some bucking stock in the pasture. However, not being a rodeo competitor or stock producer, it’s not really my position to defend rodeo stock handling. So…. why not go to the stock contractors for a response?

When it comes to animal welfare, I have a slightly different perspective than some ranchers, stock contractors, etc.
While I completely disagree with the accusations fired from animal welfare groups- mainly because they are based on assumptions and lack of information- I do believe that a few bad apples have given individuals in the rodeo and ranching industry a bad name.
I don’t disagree that some ways of handling livestock is questionable and that’s why I have always believed that animal welfare groups should focus on individuals rather than the entire livestock industry. While some people who handle livestock take all the precautions to keep animals safe and stress free, others plainly don’t care, but luckily the good stockman to bad stockman ratio puts good stockmanship in favor.
In general, the care the animals involved in rodeo are given is second to none. Us in the industry know that without them and their best performance, we do not make a living. That and the fact that these animals become a part of life and we gain a greater affection than just as a means of making money drive us to take the best care for them as possible.
I think a more effective approach would be to adjust some ways of handling animals. The downside to that is every time we give an inch and try to work with animal welfare groups, they take a mile and make it seem like we are guilty.
I believe in low-stress livestock handling. My bulls handle like commercial cattle normally do because I put extra work into it so they stay healthy, safe and have the best advantages in the arena. They know how to think through situations, move away from little pressure and respect handlers so it is unnecessary to use prods, hot shots and other things animal activists are so against. If there was more information available and instances where other cattle handlers could see how effective this can be, it might alleviate some pressure from animal activists.

Mesa Pate – Bucking Bull Producer from Stephenville, Texas (Facebook)

Next I found a Canadian Bull Producer to share a little insight on the subject.

Your article on Animal Welfare is nothing new; opponents to rodeo events and the treatment of animals in them has been around almost as long as rodeos themselves.
The challenges on some of their points are centered around subjectivity, using little empirical data. What the typical reader doesn’t see in the copy are the statistics on the number of bovine and horses that are actually saved by being used in rodeo events or for breeding for rodeo events. The alternative, for these animals, to being involved in the rodeo industry is entering the food chain in some capacity; bottom line!
When speaking of the history of rodeo, where do you think the bulls and cows came from? Answer, they were the “wild” ones, the hooky animals that wouldn’t let the rancher treat their calf when it was born, the bull that loved to service the neighbours herd as well as his owners. It is called natural selection and back in 1859, Charles Darwin began to document that the preservation of the species was based on Natural Selection. This still holds true today. If it were not for the option for ranchers to sell these cattle to rodeo livestock producers, the alternative would be certain death. Natural selection of rodeo livestock started when rodeo started and has evolved to include semen sexing, embryo transfer and cloning!
Rodeo livestock lives better than most people; certainly their breeders and owners. Regular, premium feed, and even bottled water in some cases, help to preserve the animals by keeping them comfortable, hydrated and able to perform to their ability. For these and other reasons it is a fact that many bulls today are marked and sold for six figures! They are as valuable as a prized thoroughbred race horse yet one does not see the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont being limited or eliminated.
As far as the flank, apparatus used to assist the animal in bucking. let us dispel the myth: flanks are NOT tied around the genitals, they are not used in conjunction with electricity and they actually prevent injury to the animal. One should think of the flank as being similar to an Olympic weightlifters belt: acting as support to prevent lower back injury.
We personally hold the largest event in Canada for bucking bulls two years of age and under. We buck over 48 animals in one day and the breeders represented have had bucking bulls featured at all of the biggest rodeo events in the world. Last year we invited the press to feature the animals and what goes in to the development of a bucking bull. The press were not interested in learning and sharing the flanking of the animal with the public and they were not interested in conveying the athletic ability that we as breeders were looking for. The press was certainly not interested in learning about the main trait of any rodeo livestock: that is the sheer desire to want to buck. Instead, the press was concerned about how big and ferocious the beasts were; adding to the public naivety. I guess we should have just been happy they came and did a story, raising awareness to a problem of misconception in the current modern world.
Rodeo producers, ranchers and people of the western lifestyle do not have the collective means to generate sponsor revenue to pay for jobs that they feel are justified. Frankly, let us be honest: protesting is an industry like forestry, fishing and yes… rodeo. The main difference is that people from the rodeo industry are not raising booster money to protest their cause or spread fiction!
Russell Friend – Rodeo Bull producer from Alberta, Canada (Twitter)
Over the years I have had many friends who are rodeo stock producers and many more friends who are rodeo competitors. One thing pretty much sums up their feelings about their horses and cattle – Part of the Family. What are your thought of handling and treatment of Rodeo Livestock?
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About Ryan Goodman (982 Articles)
Ryan Goodman lives in Helena, MT and comes from an Arkansas cattle ranching family. Since growing up on a family cow/calf and stocker-calf operation, he has spent the last several years learning about farming systems across the country. A graduate of Oklahoma State, Ryan is currently working on a Master's degree from the University of Tennessee. He works continuously to share his story of ranch life through community outreach and social media, all while encouraging others in agriculture to do the same.

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