Sports

Big Bucks

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"This animal has to do an extreme amount of contortion in a short time," Tallman says. Brahmans are "segmented" animals, divided into three sections -- head/shoulder, barrel and back end -- like a very meaty articulated bus with an attitude. "They can jump and twist and kick and go four ways all in the same motion," Tallman explains. "It makes 'em kind of snaky."

They're also kind of stupid. So breeders typically mix Brahmans with English cattle, such as Angus and Herefords, which, though greatly resembling rigid boxes of steak on four legs, are smart -- for cows, anyway.

The beautiful part, though, is that trying to breed bucking bulls is relatively inexpensive. Because the fledgling industry is not snooty and voyeuristic like the thoroughbred-horse industry (in which member colts can be bred only via "natural cover" -- a stallion and mare becoming amorous in each other's physical presence), anyone can get into the game for minimal cost. In short, despite the high stakes, it's a relatively inexpensive hobby.

"Everybody," says Binion Cervi, the rodeo stock organizer, "wants to get into the business of bucking bulls." Buckers, Inc. was started with a mere handful of breeders but now services more than 400 bull manufacturers across the country, in Canada and in Mexico.

Just off I-25, in an office park outside Loveland near the airport, Darrell DeGroftt helps out. A licensed veterinarian, DeGroftt manages his cow-producing outfit, Colorado Genetics, from a small suite lined with Colorado Avalanche collectibles and dotted with what appear to be giant milk jugs. They are actually nitrogen-cooled casks holding bull embryos.

As one of the country's leading experts in bovine-embryo transplants, DeGroftt takes all the romance out of being a stud. For a surprisingly small sum -- about $130 per embryo "in the can" -- he will travel to your farm and construct a bull.

First, he'll inject your prize cow with the same hormone that occasionally makes the news when a previously infertile human mother suddenly has septuplets. Next, he'll add the bull semen of your choice, by hand, through the usual channel.

A week later, about half a dozen embryos will be "flushed" into a small storage pan and slowly frozen and stored, Ted Williams-like, for future athletic use. Later, they can be implanted into a third animal -- the surrogate -- which, with the correct alignment of the stars, will give birth to a future bucking champion several months later.

It's still a crap shoot, of course. "If you did embryo transplants, Cow A to Bull B, five times and got fifteen calves, about one half would be bulls," DeGroftt explains. "Those eight would all be brothers, but they can look and act totally different. One might be a superstar. But a few may go and smell the flowers, and four or five might be mediocre."

On the other hand, he points out, "Some families have five boys who all play professional hockey." You just never know.

Besides, in some ways trying to breed the perfect bull is a risk-free proposition. Even when the son of a champion bucking bull and a smart, athletic cow turns out to be a pacifist who'd rather paint landscapes than buck, it's not like he goes to waste. "Here at Buckers," says Tallman, "we buck, breed or butcher. Burger King needs a lot of hamburger."

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer