When you're born with the name Bucky Lamb, says Bucky Lamb, you have two choices: "You can either do rodeo or be a DJ."
Lamb picked the rodeo, full tilt. This week finds him in the midst of Austin's Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo , of which he is chief executive officer.
"I sort of got it in my blood," Lamb explains as he sips orange juice — "Vitamin C; got to stay healthy" — in his office at the Travis County Exposition Center. He was born in Austin and raised in Wyoming, where his father was a ranch foreman.
"I pretty much grew up in a bunkhouse with nine or 10 cowboys who knew how to rope and ride," he says.
So Lamb, too, learned to rope and ride, competing in some roping events, "and I fought bulls for a couple of years," he says. By that he means performing the job of rodeo clown — distracting a bull after it has dumped a cowboy off its back so that the rider can scramble to safety.
"I just kind of got hooked on the adrenalin," he says. "When you're down there looking them in the face, your heart gets to pounding pretty good."
With the encouragement of his parents, though, Lamb wound up spending more time on tamer livestock pursuits, showing sheep and cows and working with horses. He exhibited project animals with other 4-H and FFA members.
"When you've got to get up in the morning and feed your projects, it instills a good work ethic," he says. "And you're too busy with your projects to get in a whole lot of trouble." As a teenager, he was on an FFA trip to the Netherlands learning about dairy farming when he got the call that the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo was giving him a scholarship to Texas A&M University.
"And that's how I became an Aggie," he says proudly. He interned with the Houston and San Antonio rodeos, then, after earning both bachelor's and master's degrees in animal science, he went to work for the San Antonio rodeo as livestock manager, doubling the event's size in six years.
In 1999, the Travis County Livestock Show approached him about coming to run its yearly event.
"I said, 'We have 33,000 livestock at this event. How many do y'all have?' They said, 'About 500.' I wasn't sure I wanted to go do that."
He did, though, and slowly expanded Austin's show until, after six years, it became the Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo, a statewide event with about 6,000 livestock entries a year and a rodeo now ranked in the top 20 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association events. This year's March 12-27 show includes livestock competition, horse shows, rodeos, a barbecue cook-off and 117 live music acts.
The most popular rodeo event is bull riding, but the second most popular might surprise you: It's mutton bustin', the event in which children ages 5 to 7 cling to a galloping sheep.
"We take entries online, and we get more than we can schedule for the rodeo," he says. "The little girls just whup the little boys. The girls really hang on." Kids who don't make the big arena's competition get to try their luck riding a sheep in the nearby show barn. No child is left behind.
Like other rodeo events, mutton bustin' has had its share of controversy. Once, a competitive parent demanded that officials "check the equipment" on a young competitor.
"Check the equipment?" Lamb was dubious. "There's no equipment; they just hang onto the sheep." Turns out the little boy had Velcro on his chaps and was attaching himself to the sheep.
"Even in mutton bustin', we've got to enforce the rules," Lamb says with a smile. He enjoys the kids in the rodeo, he says, and he's proud that the rodeo, a nonprofit organization, raises money for scholarships — $352,000 was raised last year.
Lamb, 41, also prides himself on bringing technology to the rodeo, launching Web casts and online bidding for animals. This year, there's an iPhone app with a schedule and map. Lamb uses it himself.
"These days," he says, "I spend more time with an iPhone than a rope in my hand."
Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo
When: Through March 27
Where:Travis County Exposition Center, 7311 Decker Lane