Stock-driven jewel in Rapid City

Farm Forum

RAPID CITY – Livestock is the heart of the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo in Rapid City, S.D. The event bills itself as the largest livestock-related business show in the Dakotas — a wintertime destination jewel second only to the famed Sturgis Motorcycle Rally for attracting crowds to western South Dakota.

Cowboy hats, jeans and boots are the order of the day at the stock show — a warren of indoor exhibit spaces in the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, as well as the Central States Fairgrounds east of town.

Rapid City has about 70,000 residents and the show attracts 300,000 during its 10-day run, says Ron Jeffries, general manager of the show, and for the Central States Fair and Rodeo, which runs the event.

The event has a budget of about $4.5 million a year. Profit centers are a 300-exhibitor trade show and sponsorships, as well as ticketed events, including the Ranch Rodeo, professional saddle bronc match and sheep dog trials. Horse and cattle shows make some money, but are the basis for drawing people here. The event features related but separate auctions, meetings and mini-trade shows throughout the city.

The Black Hills Stock Show holds its head up among the much larger Denver Stock Show, and the Northern International Livestock Exposition in Billings, Mont., in October, Jeffries says.

Livestock entries were up this year, he says. Attendees came from about 18 states in the Great Plains, from Texas to Montana. “The heaviest is from the nine states right in this area,” Jeffries says. There’s been more Texas traffic in the horse trade. “The horse trade is on an entertainment dollar, while the cattle trade is on the business dollar.

“We’re a commercial cattleman’s business show,” Jeffries says. “When we show all of our bulls, we won’t have a lot of $60,000 and $120,000 selling bulls because all of our bulls

-ter, horse sales, cattle breeds and vendor numbers have expanded.

“We’ve added tons of events that make sense for our type of consumer,” Jeffries says. The list includes ag secretary issues forums, leather workshops, woodworking, cowboy poetry and Western art shows. “We’re just this year moving into providing music as an entertainment option,” Jeffries says.

On the entertainment side, Sutton Rodeo Co. produces the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association rodeos and has added “extreme bull” events to its lineup. Concerts this year included big names such as Randy Houser and Easton Corbin.

The horse show and sale involves 10 key volunteers with more than 200 years of combined experience in the horse business. Volunteers handle check-in, set the sale order, print the catalogs and promote the show. “It would be an entirely different beast if it were a for-profit entity, and having hired staff,” Jeffries says.

The show is always working to improve something. For example, the Quarterhorse show went to a double-judged show, and then a triple-judged show, which allows contestants to more quickly accumulate points toward eligibility for world show competition. “What it means for a Quarterhorse person, for the same expense I can go to a show that has three judges and have a chance at three times as many points as I can by going to a show with only one judge,” Jeffries says.

“We’re always trying to get better,” he says.