Racetrack to Rodeo Arena: Sharping
Matt Scharping is the first to admit that he has a competitive side. It used to be fueled by Sprint Car racing, now his passion is fulfilled by raising top rodeo bucking bulls and watching them compete. Fifteen years after his start into raising bucking bulls, Scharping, who lives in Arlington, Minnesota, is partnered with Sankey Pro Rodeo of Joliet, Montana who raise top bucking horses, and together they provide stock for rodeos across the west.
The first one
But how did a tool-selling, race car fanatic turn into a bucking bull stock contractor? The wild tale started when he moved his family to Michigan for work in 2006. He was selling tools then, and for the first time was away from the family farm in Minnesota. Before long he realized that he hated not being able to run out to the farm to be around animals, so Scharping decided to buy a horse for his daughter so they could have some animal interaction. While looking for a horse online, he stumbled across a bucking bull website.
“I knew I was going to get to go back home to the farm in Minnesota eventually and I wanted to raise something different,” he says. “I wasn’t getting to race at that point in time, racing was kind of put on the back burner, and when I found the bulls I thought, ‘That’s perfect, I get to have the animal side of it and also get to compete,’ so I started researching it and it just consumed me.”
Every spare minute Scharping had was spent researching bucking bulls before he finally pulled the trigger and bid on a heifer during an online auction, not expecting to win the bid as he was still living in a development in Michigan. As luck would have it, he did wind up with the heifer, which caused a scramble to figure out where to go with her. Luckily, the gentleman selling the heifer was already boarding her at a farm in Nebraska and Scharping was able to keep her and some other cattle on there.
“So from the time I bought those first few in September of 2007, then May 31, 2008 I got a divorce from my first wife and I lost everything, the only thing I kept were those gall dang rodeo cattle,” Scharping says.
He moved back to the farm in Minnesota where his mom was still living and starting rebuilding fence and getting the farm ready to bring his rodeo cattle home, including buying all the proper equipment, even a truck and trailer to haul them, and figuring out what he was going to feed them.
Bucking stock in Minnesota
“It’s different in Minnesota because there’s no pasture land here,” he says. “Everything is tillable ground so what we do, we turned all our tillable ground into pastures but we literally have to farm it all. So, we’ve got one field worked up right now, we’re going to plant millet, sunn hemp and radishes in it for feed for the fall and then we’ll move everything to that field once it’s up and going, then till the next field up and plant winter rye in it so we’ve got something for them to calve on so you’re constantly farming anything for any type of feed. Literally we put hay and grain to every animal on our place 365 days a year, there’s no days off.”
Because the farm is limited in size, the cow herd stays between 35 and 40 cows, which means Scharping’s culling process has to be very strict, something that has paid off with high quality stock remaining, and strangely enough, good bucking bulls are more common out of first-calf heifers than they are from proven cows.
“I would say 75 percent of your best bulls all come out of heifers, which is a weird deal,” Scharping says. “Some mature cows are going to do it every time no matter what, and that’s great, those you never get rid of because you want as many females out of those cows you can get, but typically the best bulls come out of heifers.”
Scharping’s theory is that rodeo heifers are terrible mothers, which makes their calves a little tougher and more resilient than mature cows who tend to baby their calves.
“So we try to keep as many heifers as possible, but that is tough too because it makes a hell of a lot more work for us dealing with so many heifers all the time,” he says.
It’s more expensive to raise cattle in Arlington, Minnesota than other places in the country, especially in comparison to his business partner, Wade Sankey, who runs their bucking horses on the ranch outside of Joliet, but Scharping knows that his dad, who passed away before Scharping got into the bucking bull business, wanted the farm to stay in the family and would be proud that the farm is still going and growing today.
Beyond farming to provide feed for his cow herd, which stays between 35 and 40 mother cows, making sure that the bulls are getting proper performance based nutrition has been something that fascinated Scharping from the beginning.
“When I first started, I went to feed stores around here and I’m like, ‘I need feed for a bucking bull,’ and they’re like, ‘We’ve got this great dairy feed or beef feed,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t want to eat these sum bitches and I sure don’t want to try to milk them so I need something different.'”
After talking to a local veterinarian who specializes in bovine nutrition, they came up with a special feed mix that consists of buying extraordinary amounts of concentrate and bringing it to Scharping’s feed mill where it is mixed with the farm’s commodities. Everywhere Scharping’s bulls buck, their own special feed travels with them.
“Back when I got started though, I didn’t know anything,” Scharping says. “Take it back to the first bull I ever bought to put on those first five heifers, he was a Mossy Oak Mudslinger son out of a Yellow Jacket daughter, a really well-bred embryo calf. So, this was before I had my own facilities and a buddy of mine had facilities, so we sent him up there to buck before I brought him home to breed that following summer and he didn’t buck a lick. Well I didn’t have much of a choice, I mean he was the only bull I’ve got and I have to breed to something. Today, I would kick my own butt for doing that but out of my first calf crop I got two bull calves and one of them was Hy Test.”
Hy Test went on to be a four time PBR Finals bull, a two time WNFR bull and a CBR Bull of the Year.
“That was the good Lord looking out for me, it had nothing to do with anything else because when I started Hy Test as a yearling I didn’t know what I was doing, I never tied a flank, I just had no idea,” Scharping says. “I did my best to wreck him, if anything, and he succeeded in spite of me. Hy Test taught me a ton.”
His process on starting young bulls has changed a lot from when he started Hy Test 13 years ago. Then, Scharping took the young bull to facilities where he would run his bulls in and buck them, no dry runs or working them through the alleys and chutes. Today, Scharping finds it better to ease young bulls into it so they learn how to do things correctly and safely.
“We wean calves typically in November, so in Minnesota from November to April we literally can’t do anything to work bulls outside during that time frame so I load all my weanlings up, I get them started on feed, get them healthy and I take them all to Texas for the winter and they go to a buddy’s house of mine who was my mentor from the word ‘go’ and he has a facility in Texas where everything is small so its designed just for dealing with babies, weanlings, yearlings, to teach them what to do.”
Advocating for the main event
Scharping is big on advocating for the rodeo industry and is the first to let people know that bulls buck because they are genetically bred to, not because they are being forced to buck by any painful devices or anything of that nature.
“The whole process is teaching them what to do and that nothing is going to hurt them,” he says. “If we did anything to hurt them, they wouldn’t do their job. If one doesn’t want to buck, there’s absolutely nothing I can do to make them buck.”
The bulls that Scharping hauls are, for the most part, gentle giants. That is, until it’s time to do their jobs. He likes to explain to people that they are similar to good canine officers, hunting or cattle dogs. They love their job, and outside of doing their job they are just dogs, but when it comes time to get down to business, they get amped to do their jobs, but outside of work, it’s not uncommon for fans to be standing alongside the pens, petting the bulls who are visibly enjoying the attention.
“Bucking bulls realize what their job and that they love their job, then they become pretty easy going,” Scharping says. “They know they get fed the best, cared for the best, they get everything they ever need and they get to do a job that they love and nobody ever does anything to hurt them. Animals learn off pain.”
Which is why Scharping even uses a PEMF (pulsed electromagnetic field) machine on his bulls to encourage circulation and increased cellular activity, helping them to perform their best.
All Scharping’s success, he credits to the mentors that continued to pick up the phone and answer all of his questions from the very start. When Hy Test was a two-year-old, Scharping entered him in some futurities and he started winning and even making money. Scharping was still selling tools full time, and the bulls were just a hobby.
“I really don’t think I appreciated the success I had in the tool business, so the good Lord took it all away from me, so I was bound and determined to never not appreciate what He gave me again, so when that bull started winning, I was digging myself out of a hole and I felt like that money I needed to give to charity and that’s how I got involved with Jared Allen, the football player.”
Scharping looked up what Allen’s charity was, most professional football players had one that they worked with, and reached out to discuss working together. At first, Scharping thought he could help raise maybe $2,500. After that first year, Scharping helped raise over $100,000 for Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors. Soon, Allen wanted to buy into Scharping’s bull business and eventually, encouraged Scharping to quit his real job and “do it big” by becoming a stock contractor for the PBR.
“I started laughing, I said, ‘That’s a great idea, Jared, you did sign a 70 million dollar contract to play football, I make my living, I feed my family selling tools, there’s no way,'” Scharping says.
The next week a friend from North Dakota called Scharping to ask if he wanted to sell his tool truck. Scharping thought it was strange, but said no. A couple days later, Scharping’s district manager called and told Scharping there was a new guy that wants to start a local route and where should they send him?
“I came home and told my wife, Kelly, I have no idea how this is going to work, but the good Lord is putting all this into place for me to sell my whole business that I make a living at and go do this bull deal,” Scharping says. “I’m thinking I might fail, there’s a good chance I will fail, but I’m going to do it. So I sold everything in 2014 and started doing the bull business.”
The PBR brought Scharping and his business, Phenom Genetics, Inc. into the limelight and things were going well. Hy Test, Air Time, Magic Train and Bad Beagle just a few of the top bulls that Scharping was turning out. After not stepping foot in a race car for 16 years, in 2018, Scharping decided it was time to get back to racing and bought a race car with plans to race in the summer of 2019, since he mostly had summers off during the PBR’s off season. In the fall of 2018, Wade Sankey called him. The two had never met, but Sankey heard good things about Scharping and asked if he would be interested in bringing bulls to some PRCA rodeos in the summer of 2019.
“He sends me the whole list and I’m thinking, I can’t do this that’s a lot of outs, I need a lot of bulls, I need to buy another semi, this is a huge undertaking,” Scharping says.
Passion for the business
After thinking about it, Scharping told his wife that he could always buy another racecar, but the opportunity to go rodeo might not ever come along again, so he sold his racecar that he never got to race and started getting ready for the summer run that once again, changed everything, resulting in a friendship and working partnership between Sankey Pro Rodeo and Phenom Genetics, Inc.
“I’ve never been around bucking horses before going rodeoing (with Sankeys) in 2019 and now I love the bucking horses too.” (Scharpring supplied bulls for only PBR events until 2019.) Scharping says. “We don’t do this to become wealthy we do this because we truly love the lifestyle, we love the animals and we love what this is. It’s rewarding to give people something to watch that they enjoy and the most important thing, rodeo is all about God and country, it’s one of the few sports that is, that’s who we are and that’s what we stand for and we don’t apologize for it.”
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