At the rodeo, it is easy to cheer for the cowboys and think of all the training they put in to get to the top. However, there is one key component to a cowboy doing well in the bucking events, and that is the livestock.
Raising superior bucking stock is exactly what Cervi Rodeo Company does. Through careful breeding and patient training, the Cervi Ranch produces animals that cowboys can win on. Their stock compete at the biggest rodeos in the country, including National Western Stock Show. The ranch is run by Binion and Chase, and their cousin Scotty.
Cervi Rodeo Company, located in Stoneham, Colo., near Sterling, is the perfect place for these livestock. Located on 60,000 acres, the horses and bulls have room to run and graze. Out of the over 650 horses the Cervi's have, about 300 are located at the ranch. The other 350 are at another ranch in Medicine Bow, Wyo.
The horses at the Colorado ranch are the weanlings and yearlings, and the bucking horses. The 2-year-olds through 5-year-olds run on pasture in Wyoming. Currently, Cervi Rodeo Company has 200 horses on their bucking string, and all of them will compete at NWSS.
The process of raising a bucking bronc is very slow. From the time a breeding is selected, that foal will not compete in a PRCA rodeo until seven years later.
"Breeding bucking stock is a lot like raising race horses. The best bucking mare and stallion won't necessarily produce the best bucking offspring. There's a lot of "what if" in breeding bucking stock, and when you finally get through all the years of feeding and growing to the point you can buck them, there's a lot at stake, time and money-wise. That's why when they do come through and perform well, we can't help but be grateful and feel blessed that it all worked out," said Binion Cervi, who manages the operation.
It starts out with finding a mare and stallion pair that will potentially produce a bucking offspring. Once the mare is mated, 11 months later she will give birth to the foal. The foal is then weaned, and left to grow. At three or four, the horses will be test bucked using a spring loaded dummy. The horses that buck are kept and are then started in college rodeos when they are five. After the horses have proved themselves, they are then ready to compete at PRCA rodeos.
Raising bucking stock isn't easy, however. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of patience. He continued, "The most challenging part of raising bucking horses is that it is a long term commitment. It takes several years, financial investment and patience before you really know whether or not an animal will buck. Since we are constantly trying to raise the bar on quality, we are often making small modification to our genetics and breeding program, and those changes are not often readily noticed as it takes time. Also, all stock contractors in the business are constantly improving and finding ways to make rodeos more exciting and appealing to their fans, so that adds an element of challenge as well."
The Cervi's have focused on the bucking bronc operation, and take their horses to some of the biggest rodeos in the U.S. They have horses at the National Western Stock Show, Houston Stock Show, San Antonio and San Angelo Rodeos and the National Finals Rodeo.
The NWSS is especially important to the Cervi Ranch. "It's in our back yard, which makes it a hometown affair. There is just something about having the personal connections, history and tradition that comes with producing a rodeo so close to home. We feel a strong sense of loyalty, and like all of our rodeos, we strive to wow the fans with a great show and top-ranked bucking stock. Plus, the NWSS has won rodeo of the year. We are blessed to have the top announcer, secretary and pickup men in the business at the NWSS every year, and we have a great committee to work with," said Cervi.
The NWSS will be the first big rodeo for the 6-year-old horses, and they will finally get a chance to compete at the PRCA level. All 200 of the current bucking stock will compete over the 19 rodeos held at NWSS.
"It is extremely rewarding, after years of time and money invested, to see animals you've raised and generations of genetics come to fruition and be successful. It takes so many years to get a bucking horse in condition to perform at the top rodeos in the business, and when they finally get to that point, it's hard to explain that feeling of pride," said Cervi.
The horses haven't had much of a break, however. At the 2011 NFR, the Cervi Rodeo Company had the rankest bronc at the event. The horse, named Vitalix Party Shop, threw riders both times he was used and had the highest overall horse score.
Breeding is not the only part of the equation to creating a successful bucking bronc. Nutrition is also a big part of the puzzle. The horses are fed 10 pounds of oats per day with Silver Lining Herbs supplements, plus free choice Vitalix and pasture grass.
"You don't want them overweight, but you do want them to be fit, strong and healthy so they are in peak condition to perform. A quality, healthy diet is a top priority for them to be able to perform to the best of their ability," said Cervi.
A healthy diet allows the horses to compete for many years. Most of the horses have a long bucking life, and can buck clear into their 20s. The oldest horse on the ranch, Fletch, is 32, and bucked at the NFR 18 times. Even though the mare will no longer carry a foal, she is still a valued part of the ranch. She has had 19 successful bucking foals.
In addition to the horses that the Cervi's raise, they also have bucking bulls. They currently have 20 bucking bulls, and those will also compete at the NWSS. They have 10 cows at the ranch to raise bucking stock, and the bull calves that are raised are kept on the ranch to be tested as potential bucking bulls.
Raising bucking stock is not a new affair for the Cervi family. The ranch was originally homesteaded, and the bucking part of the operation was started over 60 years ago. The business was founded by Mike Cervi, Binion and Chase's father. The boys took over the operation in 2005, and have run it since that time.
At the time Binion was a student at Texas Tech, and knew that coming back to the ranch was what he always wanted to do. "I have a passion for our family business and love the sport of rodeo, so I never even contemplated another career choice. I feel very blessed to be in a position to get to return to my family's operation and have a career working alongside my family," he said.
Binion handles a lot of the rodeo planning and contracts, Chase works as a pickup man and manages the cow/calf operation in Roggen, Colo., and Scotty works as the livestock superintendent at the rodeos.
The Cervi family's cow/calf operation has 3,000 cow/calf pairs. Mike Cervi now runs the feedlot part of their operation, near Greeley, Colo., where they can feed 35,000 head. "Being diversified allows us to keep everything running. When one part of the operation struggles, the other parts tend to make up for it," Cervi said.
Even though the Cervi brothers are gone many weeks out of the year producing rodeos, they keep with it because they love it.
"It's pretty simple: we love our animals, the western way of life and the lifelong friends we have as a result of rodeo. I guess you could say it's in our genes and we're blessed to still have the opportunity to be a part of such a great sport and lifestyle," Cervi said.