Activists from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Australia protested outside the Byron Bay Rodeo on Thursday night holding signs that read ‘Byron Bay: Buck the Rodeo’ and ‘Nobody likes an 8-second ride’.
According to Des Bellamy, local activist for PETA, bulls and broncos are terrorised into action with the use of flank straps and electric prods. ‘Bulls have an electrolyte-filled sac as part of their digestive system, which makes electric prods much more painful for them. Flank straps are either tied to their genitals or they place a burr underneath them.’
However, Ian Bostock, co-owner of the rodeo, says that PETA has never taken the trouble to speak with him personally and have their facts wrong. ‘We don’t use cattle prods, the flank strap is a soft rope, no burrs, and it’s round their abdomen, not their genitals. If something’s wound tight around your goolies you won’t be bucking, you’ll be pleading. Bulls are no different.’ Bostock’s rodeo also shies from calf-roping contests.
PETA says, ‘Injuries to animals, such as deep internal-organ bruising, haemorrhaging and bone fractures, are all expected in this violent tradition.’
Bostock agrees that animals are occasionally hurt, but ‘it’s nothing compared to what they do to each other in the paddock.’
It is also nothing compared to what they do to the cowboys, with a fatality and several hospitalisations in recent years.
Bostock also points out that his animals are purchased from the slaughterhouse.
‘These are horses that no-one can ride because they like to buck, and cross-bred bulls no good for stud. We do around 30 rodeos from Byron up to Gympie, and we rotate our stock so that animals are taken to 15–20 a year.
‘They come out into the arena, buck for eight seconds, then go back to the paddock. Yes they work for their living, but there’s no cruelty.’
The animals appear well fed and cared for.
However, PETA believes that any level of animal suffering is unjustifiable given that the rodeo serves no purpose other than entertainment.
‘There’s nothing brave or heroic about animal abuse, and that’s all the rodeo is,’ says PETA, but Bostock disputes the claim.
‘Stockmanship is part of our heritage and I’m determined to keep it alive. Most horses will try to buck their rider at some stage and if the rider can’t handle it, then that horse gets given up on. We need people who have the skills to ride those horses.
Also, outback stations are short of riders. These days people just want to ride motorbikes, but mustering on horseback keeps the cattle a lot calmer.
‘The rodeo inspires kids to learn horsemanship.’
A Kyogle-born rodeo lover observed, ‘bulls are naturally aggressive, I don’t think it’s anything to them, but I worry about the horses, they’re a flight animal, easily traumatised’.
Anti-cruelty laws have effectively banned rodeo in the UK. In the US, California has banned the use of cattle prods, but 12 US states have taken the opposing line, exempting rodeos from animal cruelty laws.
There is an agreement over factory animal cruelty, however: Bostock stands with Bellamy in his opposition to the factory farming of chickens and pigs.
On the ethics of preventing cruelty, Bellamy says, ‘the most important single thing a person can do is reduce or eliminate animal content in their diet’.