As The Stampede is about to kick off in Calgary in a couple days it is good to know that bulls are looking forward to (or at least not dreading)
the 10 days of rodeo events.
That’s the word anyway from a University of Calgary researcher Ed Pajor. He’s a professor in animal behavior at the vet med school (faculty of veterinary medicine) who undertook a two year study of bull behavior leading up to rodeo events.
Pajor’s observations don’t rule out the bucking bulls won’t experience an increased heart rate when they bust out of the chute with rider aboard, but in getting delivered to the Stampede and readied for the events, the bulls generally take it “as another day at the office” (that’s my term not Pajors).
“The major conclusion of our study was that at this specific rodeo, the majority of bulls did not show behavioral indicators of fear prior to the performance,” says Pajor in a University release. “The evidence does not support concerns that bulls were agitated prior to performance.”
The behaviour of 14 bucking bulls during loading and holding in bucking chutes prior to rodeo performance at the Calgary Stampede was studied over a two-year period.
“We looked at seven different types of behaviours associated with fear, aggression and escape — such as pawing at the ground, tail flicking and head tossing,” explains Pajor. “Nearly 85 per cent of the bulls did not perform six of the seven behaviours.”
“The more experienced a bull was at the specific rodeo, the less activity it showed in the bucking chute,” Pajor adds.
The study also found that 75 per cent of bulls balked during loading, meaning they stopped movement for more than three seconds or stopped and changed direction. The researchers found that balking was more frequent in the areas where the handling alley narrowed and just before entering the loading chutes, and that people were present in the direct line of movement during nearly 65 per cent of the balking events.
“Our findings would support that location of handlers and other people could be changed during loading and while bulls are in the bucking chute to improve the experience of the bulls without affecting the rodeo performance itself,” says Dr. Christy Goldhawk, who co-authored the study which was published in the journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science. Others involved in the research were Dr. Guilherme Bond and the well-known Dr. Temple Grandin from Colorado State University.
Pajor says there’s a lack of scientific research in this area and a lot of discussion around how animals are treated at rodeos.
“And so I think it’s really important to have some data to get a handle on what’s happening, what the animals are actually experiencing,” Pajor says. “We need to start addressing the welfare of the animals used in rodeos. If we’re going to have rodeos we have to make sure we’re taking the animals’ experience into account before, during and after the event.”
While this study may not satisfy every rodeo critic, it’s good to know that by whatever human measurements applied, the animals aren’t in a high state of stress for most of their time at the rodeo.
I can relate to the anxiety that brings on “pawing at the ground, tail flicking and head tossing” not to mention balking. I have all that going on if I’m with someone pressuring me to go on some of the midway rides. Then I find a corn dog stand, and then I’m okay.
Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]