Rickey West and bucking bull Red Wine, a descendant of
Blueberry Wine.By Suzy Lowry Geno
They star on TV every Saturday night.
They travel in deluxe accommodations and are never allowed to stay on the road more than eight hours at a time.
They’re superb athletes undergoing a strenuous exercise program and enjoying meals designed to fit their specific nutritional needs to build muscle, strength and endurance, while allowing them to feel their best. Their sport’s fan-base has now surpassed NASCAR’s.
"They" are the 1,300 to 1,800 lb bucking bulls Rickey West breeds and raises on several sections of pasture land in rural DeKalb County.
West began as a bull rider himself, when he was only 17. "I rodeoed just about everywhere," he explained. But his love for the massive bucking bulls soon won out. He’s now been in the business for about 15 years.
Patsy’s Pet, one of Rickey West’s championship bucking bulls, whose pedigree can be traced back for four generations."I just loved the animals," West said. "A rider’s score depends on the animal he gets. Only about half of them were really good and if you didn’t draw one of those, your score wouldn’t be good. A rider’s score determines his pay day. I wanted to put better animals out there."
West and his bulls have definitely made a name for themselves, with West being one of a few contractors nationwide providing bucking bulls for the Professional Bull Riders Built Ford Tough Series events!
The Built Ford Tough Series is broadcast on TV on the Versus Channel on Saturday nights (go to www.PBRnow.com for listings and times in your area) and their website notes: "Only the best bulls are used at the Professional Bull Riders Built Ford Tough Series events."
Half of each cowboy’s score is based on the bull’s performance with the judges looking at the bull’s speed, power and "how difficult he is to ride," according to the website.
"These are bulls on the elite level," West explained. "I’m proud that many of my bulls qualify."
West said, "It’s like having 22 players on a football field. You know all of them may play good ball, but how many are good enough to go on and play in college. And then how many in college are good enough to go on and play professional. It’s the same with bulls. Only the top athletes keep going."
West explained that long gone are the days where folks just went to the stockyard and picked out what they thought would make a good bucking bull.
Now bucking bulls are bred for the needed traits, with most of West’s bulls’ pedigrees going back three and four generations.
He has about 50 heifers and he uses at least three of his best bulls each year in his selective breeding program. West said it takes up to three years to determine if a bull is going to be a star bucker.
When the bulls are two years old, he begins trying them out for bucking, using a dummy on their backs. Those not selected for bucking, are sold for breeding stock or into the food chain.
The next year, the three year olds are tried with actual riders to determine their bucking skills and the herd is pared down again.
"There’s nothing you can do to make a bull buck," West explained. "It’s either bred into them or it’s not."
Bulls’ active bucking careers can last until they are eight or nine years old with the ages of four to six being their prime.
West’s highest price bull went for $50,000 but he’s been offered $70,000 to $80,000 for others he has refused to sell.
Bulls "retired" from the circuit are used in breeding for the Ranch’s future.
"I know he’s ready to retire when the scores start being low. I don’t want to leave him in there long enough to embarrass him," West said.
West transports some of his bulls to 10 to 11 of the televised events each year and then 20 to 25 of the non-televised events
Wishbone, one of West’s then-two-year olds, won the East Coast Bucking Bull for Charity Event, the top two-year-old bull.
Also in 2003, West’s Easy Money was second in the world in the 3-4 year-old category!
West trucks his bulls all around the country for events. He’ll be at Madison Square Garden in New York in January. On those longer events he makes sure the bulls are comfortable while traveling and, after eight hours, has somewhere planned to spend the night where they can be unloaded from the trailer and bedded down comfortably.
The World Championships are held in Las Vegas each year, with only the top bulls in the world invited. West takes at least two or three bulls (and sometimes more!) every year!
West feels the key is treating the bulls like the top athletes they are and that includes a diet especially tailored to them.
"Chris Wisener (AFC field representative) and Jimmy Hughes (AFC animal nutritionist) came out and sat down with me and came up with a feed blend to make sure the bulls are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need," West explained. "I don’t want them to just be in topnotch shape, I want them to FEEL good."
The folks at DeKalb Farmers Co-op in Rainsville treat everybody just like family."
West, an Albertville native, has lived in DeKalb County near Selena’s family for about eight years. He and his wife, Selena, have a son Riley, four, and baby daughter, Hadley, who was born November 9.
"We’re truly a family business," West said. "Everybody’s involved."
His father-in-law, Charles Bailey, helps out when he travels, as do other family members.
"We probably could move out West or somewhere but I just feel like I have everything I could ever need in the world right here. The land is beautiful. I have near access to Interstate 59. And the people around here are just the best in the world."
When West is not on the road ferrying his prized bulls to competitions, he only leaves the farm when he has too.
"I stay close to home when I can," West said. "These bulls are fed every morning before I eat MY breakfast."