CALGARY — Soaking up the rays or chilling in the shade?
A University of Calgary study is looking into whether bucking bulls, arguably the most ill-tempered of rodeo animals at the Calgary Stampede, would be happier and perform better if they had a shady place to rest before the show.
The bulls, weighing between 680 to 900 kilograms, are selected for their tendency to leap, plunge and spin when a rider is on its back. Around the middle of the 20th century, breeders began selecting bulls on the basis of their bad temperament.
“The question about the care of the animals — whether these animals need shade or water — it’s always a question that’s asked by the public … We decided to set up a little trial and start looking at this question,” said Ed Pajor, professor in animal behaviour and welfare in the faculty of veterinary medicine.
“It’s all about animal welfare, animal care.”
Pajor said about two animals a day will be watched to see whether shade or sun has any influence on their behaviour and if there are any signs of heat stress.
It will look at how easily the animals handle, how they move from the back pens to the bucking chutes and whether they are breathing quickly, panting or slobbering.
Pajor said an infrared thermography camera will take the animal’s eye temperature and a nannycam will help monitor whether the bulls are hanging out in the sun or keeping cool.
“We have a pen set up — half of it shaded, half of it in the sun — and we’re letting the animals tell us where they want to spend their time.”
Pajor said it’s a preliminary study and, depending on the results, it might determine the scope of more extensive research next summer on the welfare of animals used in rodeos.
The study’s results also may help to improve the safety of cowboys who climb aboard a bull before the gate opens, he added.
“They all know these bulls and what to expect from these bulls,” Pajor said. “If the (animals) aren’t feeling right, then they may be harder to mount, so there is an element of cowboy safety in the chute.”
He said he suspects bulls prefer to be in the shade, but nothing is conclusive yet.
“Some people would claim that the bucking bulls here travel all around North America … from the southern states to up here in Calgary, and they’re pretty well adapted to these types of conditions,” Pajor said.
“What has become obvious over time is there really is no data on rodeo animals. It is very, very understudied in terms of animal care and welfare.”