Almost 50 Canadian rodeos have either been cancelled or postponed because of the virus, in a June 19, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Mouths to feed, no money coming in; rodeo stock contractors feel pandemic pain

CALGARY — Canada’s rodeo stock contractors are caught between bulls and broncs and an empty bank account.

Rodeos cancelled or postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic means bucking stock isn’t bringing in money this summer.

The animals still have to be fed, and fed well, to maintain strength and power to buck when rodeo does reboot.

“You’re into survival mode,” said Ward Macza of Northcott Macza Rodeo. “You want to try to survive to still be in business for next year.”

Rodeos pay contractors for use of their bulls and broncs. The best buckers are in demand at large, lucrative rodeos. But almost 50 Canadian rodeos have either been cancelled or postponed because of the virus, as have many stand-alone Professional Bull Riders Canada events.

July’s Calgary Stampede, one of the world’s richest rodeos offering over $2 million in prize money, was called off.

Macza keeps roughly 80 rodeo horses near High River, Alta.

“It makes you scratch your head why you have so many,” Macza said. “If it was a normal year, you’d need every one of them. “This year, you wonder what the heck you’re doing with all these animals around?”

A bucking bull can cost up to $5 a day to maintain, so a herd runs into thousands of dollars a month.

“It’s tough. There’s no doubt about it,” said Justin Volz of Wild Hoggs Bucking Bulls. “We run about a hundred bulls from yearlings on up to nine and 10-year-old bulls. We get hired to go to these events and that’s where our income comes from. We use that income to put back into feed, maintenance and travel expenses and everything else.

“There are some tough decisions. We obviously have to sell some bulls to make ends meet and that’s not easy. They’re part of our team and you never like to cut any member of your team.”

Curtis Sawyer of Outlaw Bucking Rodeo says his trucking business will have to subsidize his bucking stock this year.

“It’s not like beef cattle that I can sell and next spring buy new ones,” Sawyer explained. “We’ve worked our whole lives to get this set of stock we got. They’re irreplaceable.

“We’ll be back 20 years in our program if we got rid of the ones we got. We’ve got to financially figure out a way to keep enough feed around to keep them around until next year.

“We’ve leased some of these bulls out for breeding which we normally would not do just to generate some income and less mouths to feed at home.”

Veteran stock contractor Wayne Vold vows he’s not selling his prized broncs.

“If we don’t have any rodeos at all in 2020, I’m going to survive this thing, but it’s probably going to set us back a couple of years because the bills keep coming in and the animals have got to be fed in the winter time,” he said. “I used to sing and make some extra dough doing that, but I don’t do that any more.

“I’m not selling any of my good horses. That’s the last thing I’m going to do. I’ve got a lot of horses that would bring a lot of money, but I need them.”

Ross Lewis of Wild Hoggs said 2020 would have been a breakout year on the circuit for a talented four-year-old bull he intends to name Dirty Whirl.

“We were going to go derby him a lot this summer,” Lewis said. “There’s an opportunity to make ten or twenty thousand dollars entering him in bull competitions.

“He’s doing nothing and we’re going to miss his four-year-old year. We rely on going to these places and getting paid for our bulls and we’re not going.”

Some American rodeos are operating this summer, but the Canada-U.S. border is closed to non-essential travel until July 21.

“Myself, it’s going to be awful tough here in Canada,” Macza said. “There’s still some hope for some rodeos in the U.S.

“I’m lucky I got a few rodeos down there to go to in August. They haven’t cancelled and don’t plan to cancel unless the health authorities force them to cancel. That’s still no guarantee they’re going to go ahead.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2020.

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