Friday, January 21, 2000

While hooves thunder across the dirt floor of the Denver Coliseum, Sunni Deb Backstrom sits in an office near the livestock chutes, tapping rodeo results into a computer.
In an arena nearby, Brian Stark explains how his company’s software lets farmers and ranchers use desktop computers, palm-size PCs and satellite data to work their fields and better manage their herds.
And Robert Funk Jr., a tall man in a cowboy hat, has a cell phone wedged between his ear and his shoulder, checking his voice mail back in Oklahoma while making notes on his palm PC.
Welcome to the Wild, Wired West.
Technology is everywhere at the 94th annual National Western Stock Show, from the sophisticated business computer used by Miss Backstrom, the rodeo’s secretary, to the tiny model in Mr. Funk’s hand.
“People that aren’t involved think we’re still the Wild West,” said Cheryl Stephens, national secretary for Team Pen America, which sanctions team corralling competitions. “They think we’re pretty primitive, and we’re not.”
Team Pen America, like other rodeo and stock show organizations, uses its own proprietary software to keep track of members, results and finances. The software even handles the stock draw, choosing the animals for each team to corral.
Team penning is a timed event in which a group of cowboys separates three calves out of a herd and shoos them into a pen.
The most impressive computer operation in rodeo may belong to the Colorado Springs-based Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).
Using its own software, called Procom, the association schedules rodeos, registers competitors, tracks competitors who haven’t paid entry fees and compiles daily results. It also tallies each cowboy’s point total, which determines who qualifies for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
“Twenty years ago, a cowboy spent 60 percent of his time on the telephone, trying to find out where he was supposed to be,” said Guy Elliott, the stock show’s rodeo manager.
Today, a cowboy has to make only a single call to get all the information he needs, said Kay Bleakly of the PRCA.
Meanwhile, at ranches and farms across America, computers are making it easier to manage cattle, crops and cash.
Farm Works Software, based in Hamilton, Ind., sells programs that do everything from balancing a checkbook to producing sophisticated maps that show crop yields, soil type and other vital information.
Mr. Stark of Farm Works said business is good at his show booth, where he sold about 20 software packages in four days.
But no matter how much technology changes what goes on in the office, it won’t change the basics of life on the range or in the rodeo, many said.
“When you’re dealing with livestock, you can’t escape being out there in the field,” Mr. Funk said.
Miss Bleakly said she can’t imagine how computers could change rodeo action, “because that deals with men and animals. And you can’t computerize men and animals.”

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