- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2006


One of the most famous performers in the world of rodeo was injured a few yearsago, but could afford early retirement on a sprawling Texas ranch because he is generously rewarded for his work.

If the bovine world had its version of Forbes magazine, Jim Jam would be at the top of its list of the most financially successful members of the species.

Jim Jam is a famed Professional Bull Riders (PBR) association bucking bull, who has sent many an aspiring cowboy into the dust before he could even utter “yee-ha.” Champion bull rider Chris Shivers rode him to the highest score in PBR history of 96.5 points out of 100 in 1999.

One recent day, Jim Jam’s lunch of corn and grains was about to be served the way he has always liked: under a mesquite bush at the Paradise Farms ranch, about an hour’s drive northwest of San Antonio, in the company of younger bulls still trying to make the cut.

Jim Jam sniffed the air and fidgeted in anticipation of the feast.

“Careful,” cautions his owner, Cody King, himself a celebrated bull rider in the past. “These bulls only seem friendly. In fact, they are like lions — only without claws and fangs.”

Meanness is his meal ticket. A bucking bull must jump, kick, rear and rage — or it is steak. But if it does all of the above, and with enough gusto, it’s a gravy train.

The PBR hosts 31 regular season rodeo events plus the annual world finals in Las Vegas. A leading bull’s fee for a televised appearance could reach $525, and up to $350 for a nontelevised event. That’s nearly $15,000 a year — an amazing wage, considering a day’s work is only eight seconds. That’s how long each rider must stay atop a bucking bull to qualify for a score. Fewer than half the cowboys at any given contest actually succeed.

Rodeo judges don’t just assess the riders, but the bulls, too. Judges assess the power of the bull’s kick and see if all four of its legs or just the hind ones get airborne during jumps. They want to know if it adds a body roll to its buck — and how sharp and brusque its lunges are.

Before every ride, even a bull’s hooves, whose edges can get quite sharp, get smoothed over and cleaned to avoid open wounds — a bovine version of pedicure in a beauty salon.

A top score, according to Mr. King, usually paves the way for better and more lucrative things to come. The bull becomes a hot commodity on the breeding market — generating as much as $250,000 in potential annual income.

A theory popular among ranchers holds that 80 percent of a calf’s future ferocity comes from the cow, and Mr. King says breeders apply science to the matching process.

Paradise Farms, he says, employs a Brazilian embryologist, who uses a technique that maximizes the genetic contributions of both bull and cow. Six days after the cow is inseminated, its reproductive system is flushed. All the embryos are then collected and transplanted into surrogate cows that carry them to term.

The technique, according to Mr. King, allows to the ranch to produce up to 20 calves a year from its top genetic pair. Each premium calf can fetch $5,000, adding another $100,000 of annual income, pushing the total revenue generated by Jim Jam to about $365,000 a year.

“If Jim Jam were a person, he would have ended his career a millionaire,” laughs Cody Lambert, a PBR vice president in charge of livestock selection.

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