PUEBLO, Colo. - PBR bucking bulls are powerful, graceful and valuable athletes. They’re pretty lucky, too.
These rock star bovine athletes are among the world’s best cared for animals, generally living five times longer than the average bull.
For members of the U.S. Border Patrol, seeing this was believing.
These PBR partners enjoyed an up-close view of the sport’s animal athletes at a recent tour of bull housing at South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa, where more than 750 bulls made their home during the PBR Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour Finals and World Finals.
Experiencing what PBR founding member Jerome Davis called “bucking bull heaven,” Border Patrol agents and officials met the sport’s top bovine competitors, heard about their bloodlines and received a crash course in their care and feeding from PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert along with stock contractors Chad Berger, Kenny McElroy, Matt Scharping, and Jerome and Tiffany Davis.
“Every one of these bulls is like one of my kids,” Berger said. “These animals mean so much to me, my family and everyone who works for us. They treat them accordingly.”
Berger raises more than 225 bulls on his ranch in Mandan, North Dakota, some of whom are 15 and 16 years old. Like other PBR stock contractors, he spares no expense in giving them the best.
“If there’s such a thing as reincarnation, I want to come back as a bucking bull in the PBR,” he said.
“These bulls get to do what they love. They have the best food and medical care. Instead of going to a slaughterhouse, they retire to hang out on a beautiful ranch with their girlfriends. They live a great life,” Berger said.
Tiffany Davis offered that she’d join a group like PETA, if only they were more informed of the treatment of the animals in the PBR.
“The goal of our tours is to counter misinformation unfortunately being spread by getting word out there on how well these bulls are actually taken care of,” she said.
The biggest misperception is the placement of the flank strap, which never touches a bull’s genitals or hurts the animal, Davis said.
Lambert described the flank strap – which is neither abrasive nor tightly bound to the bull – as an object the bulls simply try to get rid of.
“If a bull’s testicles were tied or touched, he wouldn’t move as well; he certainly wouldn’t buck,” said Lambert, one of the founders of the PBR.
“Touching a bull’s genitals is not only cruel and banned in the PBR, it would defeat the whole purpose of the sport, which is to have the bull buck hard to the best of his ability.”
While the flank strap encourages the bulls to kick, these special animals buck as a result of genetic breeding, explained Jerome Davis.
“Where we are today with these bulls is the result of 100 years of breeding,” he said. “We put a dummy on a calf and get a good idea of what he can do.”
The best bulls then go into breeding programs, and the entire industry trains its eyes on the resulting bloodlines.
The bulls spawned in this closely-monitored breeding system genuinely love to compete in the PBR, according to Lambert and the stock contractors.
But bulls don’t speak. How can anyone be certain they love what they do?
Berger pointed to Little Yellow Jacket, a legendary competitor who with Bushwacker is the only bull in PBR history to win three World Championships.
When Joe Berger, Chad’s father, had once brought his bovine lineup to Austin, Texas, the 1,750-pound bull with one horn pointed upward and one going down was not scheduled to compete on the first night of the event.
As Berger’s other bulls were leaving for the arena, Little Yellow Jacket tried to get on the trailer. He then impatiently paced the fence-line all night long, digging a 10-inch trail in the dirt.
After Little Yellow Jacket retired, he would bellow and cry and run beside the trailer leaving for PBR events. He’d even try to take a short-cut route to sneak onto the trailer.
“Little Yellow Jacket would sleep in the horse stables. He was the most human-like bull I’d ever seen,” Berger said.
Each stock contractor at South Point had similar stories of their bulls desperate to get to the arena.
The ride there is a comfortable one; trailers are specially equipped to ensure the bulls have the smoothest trip possible.
Stock contractors like McElroy put 12 to 14 inches of shavings over a spongy trailer bed floor to remove any shock from the road driven by trucks with “Air Ride” suspensions.
“The bulls are basically gliding down the highway so they’re ready to go when we get there – not worn out or shook up by the ride,” McElroy said.
On a rare occasion a bull may be injured in the arena, stock contractors will spend thousands of dollars on the best medical care.
When Mississippi Hippy, one of the largest bulls ever to compete in the PBR at 2,460 pounds, hurt his hip muscle, McElroy brought the popular bull to Texas A&M for evaluation.
The prognosis was not good. Surgery wasn’t an option.
McElroy took the giant brown and white bull home and invested $30,000 in a Magna Wave machine.
Following successful electro-pulse therapy to heal his stressed muscle, Mississippi Hippy now lives a peaceful life under a big oak tree on a ranch in Ohio.
The Border Patrol met Magic Train and watched his owner, Matt Scharping, pet the 1,650-pound bull under the chin and scratch his belly.
“These are big, powerful intimidating animals, which can make people nervous,” the Minnesota stock contractor said. “It’s easy to forget their good-natured side. The bulls are like hunting dogs – they love to go to work, but when not working, they’re sweet-natured animals.”
Magic Train would go out the next night in T-Mobile Arena and with his dance partner Jose Vitor Leme put up a 94.5- point ride, helping the young Brazilian win the World Finals and 2017 Rookie of the Year honors.
Lambert would call it the best ride he’d ever seen with his own eyes.
The Border Patrol learned about “banana horns” (those that slope downwards) and “muleys” (bulls born without horns).
They learned that bucking bull horns are tipped for their own safety as well as the bull riders and bull fighters.
“Tipping is like getting your fingernails cut, doesn’t hurt the bulls in the least,” assured Tiffany Davis.
As the tour moved past reigning World Champion SweetPro’s Bruiser and regular-season champion Pearl Harbor, a ranch hand brought a bucket of water to a group of bulls.
It turns out these extraordinary animals are just like people. Some of them don’t like tap water. Stock contractors will bring their own premium water supply.
Members of the Border Patrol said the bull housing tour gave them a strong understanding of an important and often-misunderstood aspect of professional bull riding, as well as affirmation for their involvement with the PBR.
“The dedication everyone in the sport has for the animal athletes and one another demonstrates why the PBR and U.S. Border Patrol is a great partnership,” said Ronald Vitiello, acting Deputy Commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“We share the same values in caring for one another, being patriotic, and working hard for what we believe in.”
© 2018 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.