BREEDING TO BUCK
for Tri-State Livestock News
While the Wyoming ranch has been in the family for nearly 100 years, the Burch clan didn’t start breeding rodeo stock until 1980.
“Me and my dad and my brother don’t buy bucking horses, we breed them,” Matt Burch explained of the family that calls Rozet, Wyo., home. “There is a lot of big money in this right now, and a lot of people don’t want to wait, they want to buy them already made. The only thing we buy is a stallion we want to breed to our mares,” he explained. It can be a slow process – weeding out the poor producers and identifying the good ones – but it is worthwhile when an outstanding one comes along, Burch said.
Homesteaded in 1916, the family ranch, which started out as a 160 acre plot now spans about 200,000 acres in eastern Wyoming and includes Max and GeorgeAnn and sons Matt and Chad. “We’ve raised ranch cattle all of our lives,” Matt Burch said. “Dad was a big time horse guy,” trailing bucking horses for other contractors as a boy, then getting into racehorses “really big” when he was a grown man.
“Bucking horses have always been my dad’s passion, though,” Burch insists, explaining that it was 1980 when his dad bought his first 25 mares from Pat Byrne near Ekalaka, Mont. “It was a share deal and they came with a Korkow stud.” The stallion bred the mares the first year and then tragically died soon afterward, Burch explained.
The very next year, Matt’s father Max purchased the rest of Byrne’s mares. Then he went back to Montana in search of a stud, a son of the famous Gray Wolf from “Feeke” Tooke, also from the Ekalaka country. “Ernie was running the place by then. He told dad about this one stud,” Burch explained, saying that most outfits today with quality bucking horses probably have broncs that go back to Tooke breeding somewhere in their pedigrees.
“The whole time they were out in the pasture looking at this stud Ernie was trying to sell to dad, this little bay colt kept peeking around the mares. He’d show his head and then after he’d make eye contact, he’d disappear again. When Ernie asked if dad wanted to buy the other stud, dad finally asked him about this bay stud colt,” Burch explains. “Ernie told dad he was also an own son of Gray Wolf but that he didn’t think dad would want him.” But after a little more talking, an agreement was made and Max handed Tooke a check for $800 and headed home with the little bay weanling they later named “Tooke.”
“That horse went on to be one of the best producing studs in the country,” and also one of the rankest horses he’s ever laid eyes on, Burch said.
“We didn’t get our PRCA card until 1999. We had gotten our first crop of colts out of that stud in 1982. Now, since 1999, 46 own sons and daughters of that stud have gone to the NFR. He’s probably one of the most elite studs of all time.” Burch said that Lunatic Fringe, a well-known world class bucking horse that “they have probably won damn near a million dollars on” is out of an own daughter of “Tooke.”
Lunatic Fringe’s sons and daughters, the oldest being five years old, are looking spectacular, Burch said. “They are going to be the legit bucking horses if they don’t hurt themselves before we start using them.” They buck that hard. “He’s proved himself as a bucker and a sire. His colts are bucking so good right now we might even retire that horse soon so he doesn’t get hurt.”
There are a lot of “ups and down” in the business of breeding bucking horses as well as bulls, Burch said.
“Everybody thinks that the mares that buck really good will produce the best colts but we’ve actually found that often times it is a full sister to the outstanding performers who are the best producers,” Burch said. Sometimes the arena favorites turn out to be great producers too, but the odds are that the “average” bucking horses are the better-producing mares, and sometimes it is the same way with the stallions. “Studs can be the same as the mares…there’s only been a handful of ‘major league bucking sons of guns’ that produced outstanding colts,” Burch said.
Burch said their family has been involved in numerous “stud swaps” with the Calgary Stampede, Powder River Rodeo, Sutton Rodeo and others, in an effort to outcross with some of the industry’s best bloodlines. They also occasionally purchase stallions from amateur stock contractors who are willing to sell a son out of a great producer. The Burch family continues to mix and match bloodlines to keep things fresh. “We put 15 or 20 mares with a stud and then rotate them the next year and so on.” If a cross works well, they might try it again in five years, but they always try to keep a rotation going to keep their options open.
Finding out which studs or mares produce the best bucking stock is a slow process. They don’t find out if a horse is going to do well in the arena until it is at least five years old, Burch said, which means they will have a lot of colts out of any particular stud before they even find out if the sons or daughters are useful. But sometimes even if the sons or daughters from a particular line don’t buck very well, they turn out to be great “mommas and papas” who produce high quality bucking horses.
“It is a gamble every time. You won’t figure it out until you breed them, just like any breeding program, whether it is beef cattle, rodeo bulls or anything else.”
In addition to world class broncs, the Burch family is also hauling more bulls down the road. They bought some bulls from a Missouri contractor in 1998. “There was a black bull – 51 Swamp Cat – that was a big black Brahma-cross bucking son of a gun. I took five of the woofiest ranch cows that I could find on the place and bred them to that bull and I started with the daughters out of those cows,” Matt explained. “They were kind of ranchy-looking but they darn sure bucked.”
Matt, who also operates a guiding business, said he saved his “hunting money” for three years in order to buy some more bulls. They have sold semen but never done any AI-ing. “I don’t know if I have time right now,” he explained.
The rodeo cow herd, which now numbers over 200, has produced some “big league” bucking bulls. Three years ago, Burches sent three bulls to the NFR and a bull they had sold to another contractor bucked there as well. The bullriders won four rounds on those four bulls. Zombie Zoo, one of the bulls Burches had hauled, was named reserve bull of the NFR and the bull he had sold, Smoke Screen, carried J.W. Harris to a 94.5 point crowd-pleasing ride. All of the bulls were out of Water Moccasin.
This year Burch Rodeo brought three barebacks: Pinball Girl, Jim Dandy and Gopher Hole; three saddle broncs: Lunatic Fringe, Friendly Fire and Hippie Chick as well as a bull named Classic Hit to Las Vegas.
Burch explained that “Lunatic and Hippie Chick are out of the same mother by two different studs, then Friendly Fire is out of the same daddy as Lunatic. Pretty good line of breeding right there.” Indeed.