Special treatment: Wrangler NFR animals get optimum care as they stay in Las Vegas   | TSLN.com
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Special treatment: Wrangler NFR animals get optimum care as they stay in Las Vegas  

By Ruth Nicolaus for Tri-State Livestock News
Bucking horses for the night’s Wrangler NFR are brought down the alley to the Thomas and Mack Arena. The animals stay at a three-acre grassy field, about two blocks from the arena, and get the finest care possible. PRCA / Phil Doyle | Courtesy photo
NFR_holding pens_PRCA photo by Phil Doyle
Wrangler NFR by the numbers 525 animals (not counting contestants’ horses) 50,000 gallons of water 57 tons of feed 740 bales mixed hay 660 bales alfalfa 400 of Orchard grass 200 of Bermuda grass 7 semi loads Priefert gates and panels

The Wilson family of Scenic, S.D. ate their Thanksgiving feast at a truck stop. 

That’s because Chancy, Paige and their kids are headed to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, with three bucking horses and a bucking bull (owned by Andy Podio) in tow.   

As co-owners with Podio of Muddy Creek Pro Rodeo, they’re among the sixty-plus stock contractors who have had animals selected to buck at this year’s Wrangler NFR.  



It’s a 1,200 mile drive, with a Nov. 26 required check in for the animals, so the Wilsons left a day early, in case of vehicle trouble or weather delays.  

And when the animals arrive, they get the best care possible.  



For two weeks, a crew of eleven men are responsible for the entire care of the 525 animals that compete at the Wrangler NFR: 105 bareback horses, 105 saddle broncs, 100 bulls, 75 tie-down calves, 60 steer wrestling steers, 60 team roping steers, and twenty saddle horses, for the animal care crew.  

John Barnes, Sutherland, Iowa, has been the Wrangler NFR livestock superintendent since 2011, and he and his crew take care of every detail around the clock for the animals. 

Once the bucking horses and bulls are selected in October, their owners are sent feed and pen sheets, choosing the Purina feeds and the type of hay they’d like for each animal.  

Seven kinds of Purina feeds are available, as are four types of hay: grass, alfalfa, a grass/alfalfa mix, and Bermuda hay, all in three-string bales.  

“Livestock comes here from Canada to Florida and all over,” Barnes said, “so we have a feed they can feed at home so there are no transition issues.”  

Hay comes from a hay farm in Nevada, using a hay squeeze that unloads 68 100 pound bales at a time. The Purina feed is trucked in from a mill in Ft. Worth.  

Barnes pencils out pens, each 12 x 24 foot. Stock contractors designate how they want their animals penned, with 288 square feet of space per animal: stallions separate, or certain bulls that don’t get along, or animals that prefer to be with each other.  

Special accommodations are made for the stallions. They are penned by the bulls, and when they are driven up the alley to the rodeo arena, extra care is taken to make sure they’re kept separate from the other horses. This year, nine stallions have been selected for the Wrangler NFR.  

Muddy Creek Pro Rodeo, will have three pens: one for the stallion, Bugsy, a saddle bronc, one for the geldings Black Mamba and Pejuta Haka, both bareback horses, and one for the bull, Spy Glass (who is owned by Podio.)  

The animals receive first class veterinary attention. Three times a day veterinarians from Desert Pines Equine Center walk through the pens: once at mid-morning, once at about 4:30 pm, and again after the rodeo is over. They’re also on call in case any animal would need care.  

The animals are housed on a three-acre grassy area, the intramural field for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, about two city blocks from the Thomas and Mack. An alleyway runs from the site to the rodeo arena, and every day, the animals that will compete at that night’s rodeo, are driven down the alleyway to pens at the arena, where they are loaded in the order they buck.   

Wrangler NFR bucking horses thunder down the alley with the Las Vegas skyline behind them. PRCA/Phil Doyle | Courtesy photo
NFR2018-NFR_holding-pens01_PRCA-photo-by-Phil-Doyle

When each event is done after the night’s rodeo, the animals are driven back to their pens. The horses go in groups, but the bulls are immediately driven back. “Once the bull leaves the chute (where the bull rope is removed), he doesn’t stop till he gets back to his pen,” Barnes said.  

Each animal is exercised daily, in a more spacious area. The bulls’ exercise area has a dirt pile; the horses’ area has added sand for them to roll in.  

The eleven men are split into crews: four on the feed crew, four horseback on the exercise crew, one man working nights, and Barnes and his assistant rounding out the team.  

Their days start with feeding at 7 am, followed by watering, then exercising the animals, pen by pen. The horses and bulls are exercised only with the animals in their own pen, so that they don’t risk being injured or being confused with other animals. “We don’t mix livestock between the same herd, because it’s too hard to sort them out,” Barnes said.  

The crew breaks for a half-hour lunch, then sorts the animals that will be ridden that night. Those animals are driven to pens at the Thomas and Mack, then the feed crew is back to work, putting out hay so when that night’s rodeo is done, they come back to hay in their pens. Their work doesn’t end till the rodeo is over and all the animals are back to their pens.

hBucking bulls and horses are tagged with the official “Wrangler NFR” stickers on their rumps. They are given the utmost care as they wait their turns to buck at the world’s most prestigious rodeo. PRCA / Clay Guardipee | Courtesy photo
NFR_Holding-Pens02__livestock_Clay-Guardipee

Things are done differently at the Wrangler NFR, Barnes said. “We do things at this rodeo that nobody else does,” he said. 

For instance, stock contractors do not feed their own animals; the feed crew does it. “It would be impossible to get 64 contractors feeding there,” he said. And having lots of visitors to the pens is discouraged.  

“The toughest part of my job is keeping people away from the pens so the animals can rest,” Barnes said. “If one person is in the pens, all the animals are paying attention.”  

Chancy Wilson likes to check on his animals every day, “especially the day after they buck, to make sure they’re not sore or hurt, to make sure they’re drinking water,” he said.  

Another thing done differently at the National Finals is watering the livestock. Their water tanks are not kept completely full, so they can be emptied easier if they get dirty. “We can dump them out if we have to,” Barnes said. “We have to keep the water clean. 

“We don’t do things the easiest way, we do what’s best for the animals.”  

For watering, the crew has a 500-gallon water wagon pulled down the alleys. A water line and hoses are available, if needed.  

Each pen is labeled with the animal’s brand and name, owner, and how much feed they get. “You can’t go off what you think,” Barnes said. “You have to go off the label in front of you.”  

One thing to note at the National Finals, the PRCA’s world championship, is that it’s a cut above.  

There is no room for error, he noted. “We’re not able to make excuses. We just have to make things right. 

“There’s a lot of money at stake (at the National Finals),” Barnes said. “When we’re caring for someone else’s livestock, it’s important to follow through with their directions.”  

The animals’ welfare is the most important thing.  

“The key thing I learned years ago is we do everything possible to help the animal perform to the best of their ability. Whatever it takes, it takes.”  

The Wilsons arrived in Las Vegas on Nov. 26 and won’t leave till the rodeo is over, on Dec. 10. The kids: daughters Paytin (13) and Kashtyn (5) and son Rankyn (9), have their homework done, so they can miss school.  

“My kids work just as hard as Paige and I do, so they come with us,” Wilson said.  

Other area stock contractors who have horses and/or bulls selected to compete at the Wrangler NFR include Korkow Rodeo and Sutton Rodeo, both of South Dakota; Bailey Pro Rodeo, Dakota Rodeo and Mosbrucker Rodeo, all of North Dakota; Brookman Rodeo, J Bar J Rodeo, JS Rodeo, Duane Kesler, New West Rodeo, Sankey Rodeo & Phenom Genetics, of Wyoming; and Powder River Rodeo, Rocky Mountain Rodeo, and Summit Pro Rodeo, all of Colorado.  

Bucking horses for the night’s Wrangler NFR are brought down the alley to the Thomas and Mack Arena. The animals stay at a three-acre grassy field, about two blocks from the arena, and get the finest care possible. PRCA / Phil Doyle | Courtesy photo
NFR_holding-pens_PRCA-photo-by-Phil-Doyle
Bulls are taken back to their pens after being exercised. The bucking horses and bulls get daily exercise and are looked over by veterinarians three times a day. PRCA / Clay Guardipee | Courtesy photo
NFR_Holding-Pens_livestock01_Clay-Guardipee
A Wrangler NFR bucking bull scratches his neck on the dirt pile in the exercise pen. The horses and bulls are exercised daily and have the best care possible while in Las Vegas for the Finals. PRCA / Clay Guardipee | Courtesy photo  
NFR_Holding-Pens__livestock_Clay-Guardipee