J.R. Stratford is only 16, but the Pratt Skyline student knows a thing or two about bucking bulls. The 2017 World Champion Junior Bull Rider cares for 16 at his grandfather's place just north of city limits, including Spotted Demon, a top-ranked bull on the circuit.
When he’s not in school, the world of 16-year-old J.R. Stratford of Byers, a soon-to-be sophomore at Skyline High School, revolves around his bulls.
The young entrepreneur buys, rides and leases out bucking bulls that can been seen grazing in a field on the north side of Cemetery Road, just west of Highway 61 in Pratt.
Stratford, who proudly wears a large silver buckle declaring him as the 2017 World Champion Junior Bull Rider, owns 16 bulls.
He is the grandson of Jim and Joyce Stratford, who have an 80-acre spread that abuts Cemetery Road, which is where J.R.’s bulls often like to hang out in a shaded area.
J. R. said that in order to keep his bulls separated from the purebred heifers his dad, Steve Stratford, breeds at their Stratford Angus Ranch in Byers, his grandparents opened their gates to his bulls, which has provided for the interesting speculation about the herd by those spotting them.
One of these bulls is “Spotted Demon,” a top-ranked rodeo bull, known to get about six feet in the air trying to throw a rider, J. R. said. Spotted Demon lost part of his left horn in ferocious arena action, but that hasn’t slowed him down. He is well-respect- ed on the rodeo circuit.
“When bulls are at work in the arena, they are judged on how well and how high they kick,” J.R. said. “They also get points for how fast they spin. The good ones will spin.”
Bull-riding events are judged 50 percent on how the bull bucks and 50 per cent on how well the rider rides.
“You have to stay on for eight seconds,” J.R. said.
Bull-riders don’t get to choose which bull they will be riding.
“It’s a random draw,” he said. “Sometimes you get a good draw and sometimes you don’t.”
J. R. did not raise the bulls from calves. He bought them as full- fledged bulls at an average cost approaching $2,000 a head.
In the arena, the bulls are “very dangerous,” J.R. said. “They step on you wrong and they’ll kill you.”
At the Stratford ranch in Pratt, the teenage entrepreneur acknowledged that he doesn’t consider his bulls as pets. He said likes to maintain a safe distance when he’s in their pen with them. However, he assured, they are not dangerous animals to passersby and not a threat to drivers traveling Cemetery Road.
Like professional athletes, the bulls require top care. In the summer, they can graze, but in winter, it costs about $300 a head to satisfy their bullish ap- petites. It’s not uncommon for J.R. to spend more than $5,000 in feed for his bulls each year.
The full herd of bulls will drink between 40-50 gallons of water a day dur- ing the summer, almost twice as much as they guzzle down in winter, J.R. said.
From February through October, the bulls see a lot of action, both locally and on the road, going to rodeos as close as Greens- burg to the west and as far east as Missouri. They get “down time” from their bucking gigs in their off-season of November, December and January. During the school year, the bulls are loaned to the Pratt Community College rodeo program, where PCC rodeo students use the bulls for practice. PCC Head Rodeo Coach Rocky Patterson, himself a first- class rodeo cowboy with buckles and honors to spare, picks up the bulls and returns them to their pasture just across the highway from the college.
“It saves the college a bunch of money,” said J.R.’s granddad Jim, who retired from PCC in 2013 after a tenure of 38 years as vice president of academics.
J.R.’s grandmother Joyce retired a year earlier from PCC, where she served as administrative assistant to Vice President of Finance and Operations Kent Adams.