Takin’ it to the pens

Livestock Director Randy Bracher and his daughter Sydney Bracher work together in the livestock pens underneath the west grandstand during the Pendleton Round-Up.

By Jonathan Bach

East Oregonian

For people looking to get their hands on some real-life experience with cattle, the livestock crew could be a choice volunteer opportunity. But don’t think it’s all fun in the dirt below the Round-Up grandstands. The best crew members work hard the duration of the rodeo, deftly directing cattle.

Randy Bracher, now going into his third year as livestock director, knows how to sift through a batch of younger livestock hands. “You can tell those who’ll stick it out all week, and who’ll be your part-time help,” he said.

Some are ideal: they work hard and have a way with the animals. “You need to be efficient in getting the cattle to move, but realize they have a mind of their own,” he said. The key is to be able to get the cattle to move without “a lot of force,” he said. “That method is instinct. It can’t be taught.” He said he prefers folks from ranching backgrounds or those who demonstrate an ability with livestock.

At the Pendleton Round-Up, crewmen don’t use hot-shot cattle prods or a lot of shouting at the animals to get them to go, both of which are stereotypically associated with rodeo, Bracher said.

“You’re not going in there and having to jump and yell,” he said. It’s about training the cattle and treating them well, so that when the time comes, the animals know what to do without a bunch of fuss.

What do you do with young helpers who show promise? You treat good help well, introducing them to the cowboys the young ones admire, Bracher said. “You don’t interrupt that idolatry they have,” he said. The hope seems to be that good volunteers will bring their friends come next Round-Up.

He said he sees his daughter Sydney as being one of the harder working volunteers.

Sydney Bracher, 11, started in the livestock pens last year. Coming into the pens the first time was scary for her because of the big horns of the steers, she said. She said the animals can be stubborn sometimes. But “it’s actually pretty fun because I get to do stuff and hang out with a lot of animals,” she said.

Some livestockers just don’t make the cut. “You weed out some of those kids,” said Randy Bracher.

He said he doesn’t want volunteers to sit unengaged on fences because of an oversupply of labor.

Last year, 106 volunteers made their way to the Round-Up Grounds to help with livestock, he said. The year before, it was 116. And before that, it was 144. But he said he has had to direct would-be livestock volunteers to concessions, feed crew and the ushers, because right now his team is at “perfect capacity.”

As far as safety, he said he hasn’t had an accident in his short tenure as livestock director, nor does he know of any livestock volunteer who has. “I am personally very critical of who I bring on as a volunteer,” he said. Young livestock volunteers and their parents will be walked through what the young volunteer will do in the pens, and the parents will talk about any of the younger volunteers’ dietary restrictions.

Bracher said he got started with the Round-Up back when Joe Talbot was the livestock director.

Talbot was shorthanded. From a ranch himself, Bracher knew cattle, though he was raised on the other “side of the fence,” he said, gesturing to the Happy Canyon Arena. Generations of his family had helped at the nightly show, and now he was hopping the fence to help with cattle. “Once you get into the Pendleton Round-Up, if you show your willingness to work and put on a community event, they keep asking you to come back,” Bracher said.

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