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Research studies on bucking stock response gets a high-tech tool

Is there more than meets the eye about how bucking stock react to being handled and loaded into rodeo bucking chutes? That’s what a team of animal behaviour researchers from the University of Calgary are looking to find out during this year’s Calgary Stampede.


A new, high-tech research tool will be tested as part of ongoing studies by U of C researchers recording animal behaviour cues of bucking horses and bulls at the Stampede Rodeo. Starting this year, the researchers will introduce the use of infrared thermography, known as IRT. Dr. Ed Pajor from the U of C’s Veterinary Medicine faculty explains that infrared thermography (IRT) equipment is a speedy, non-invasive way of detecting temperature levels amongst bucking stock leading up to and immediately after their show-time in the arena. The hand-held IRT devices will measure the whites of the eyes and record the animal’s retinal temperature. Pajor and his team are determining if IRT can add to the observational research that has already been conducted to date.


“We’ve spent the last two years behind the chutes at the Stampede with a team of researchers recording visual signs of how bucking animals are responding during the Stampede Rodeo,” explains Dr. Pajor. “Things like the whites of the eye, any stress defecating, and other behaviours that may indicate an animal is experiencing heightened levels of anxiety.”


Pajor and his team continue to look for differences between experienced and novice animals during bucking events. To date they have noted that it is very rare for a bucking animal to exhibit any stress or fear indicators at the Stampede.


Dr. Pajor praises the Calgary Stampede for being very generous in their access and cooperation to enable his studies during real rodeo conditions.


Calgary Stampede programming vice-president Paul Rosenberg notes the Stampede and contractors have a lot of practical knowledge about how to best handle livestock and competitive animals, but they are always looking to augment that with the most modern information available.


“Ultimately, we have always believed that it is in the nature of the rodeo animals to buck. They are in fact bred and selected based upon this particular trait. The type of research being conducted by Dr. Pajor allows us to learn more about the behavioural responses of our performance animals and allows Stampede practices to continually evolve,” says Rosenberg. “Collaborating with University of Calgary researchers helps us continue to make intelligent and thoughtful improvements based upon our large animal expertise and science-based information. It’s all about making our practices, our techniques and our events even safer and better.”