Creating ‘wow’: Through cloning, genetic strategy Gary Long eyes the perfect bull

April 4, 2012 by  

NACHES, Wash. — The young bull in the chute is decidedly unhappy as the rider is strapped into place on his back, making his outrage clear with every snort and shudder.

From left, Dennis Hiebert and Mike Wright watch a young bull buck with a dummy weight on its back on Saturday, March 24, 2012. The dummy is set to a remote release, held by Hiebert, and allows those watching to both judge how a bull moves and also to train a bull by releasing the weight after a certain amount of time or move -- usually a twist -- that will make for a good bucking bull as the bull begins to compete. (SARA GETTYS/Yakima Herald-Republic)



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The instant the gate opens he bolts into the arena, leaping and twisting until that irritant on his back is sent flying to the ground.

But even that isn’t enough to mollify this yearling bull. It seems determined to live up to its name, Double Doc — a reference to both his mother, She Doc, and his grandfather, the famous Dr. Proctor.

First he prods and snuffles at his “rider” — an eight-pound weight that had been belted onto his back — with a testiness that seems to say, “Yeah, you better stay down.”

Then he proceeds to stomp and stalk around Gary Long’s bull-bucking arena as if defending his territory, absolutely refusing to head out the exit gate even when arena hands Fabian Mendoza and Conrad Kinsey climb into the pen to herd him out. He repeatedly charges them, chasing each to the top of the steel-pipe fence, ignoring their repeated whacks to his head and flanks with hard-plastic “rattle paddles.”

Mary Sponcler, a Selah rancher who co-owns the bull with her husband, Pat, laughs at the bull’s irascible nature and looks across the enclosure to Long, who is jotting down notes on each young bull’s performance.

“Well, Gary,” Sponcler calls, “he’s got spirit!”

Spirit is a good indicator for Long, who breeds, raises and trains his own and others’ bucking bulls on his sprawling South Naches ranch. He follows a genetic strategy, mating carefully selected bulls and heifers under the auspices of his Let ’R Buck-Long Ranch operation to produce the desired power, athleticism and attitude.

“We want to see attitude and madness,” he says. “That kick-your-butt attitude.”

Long knows it will take more than that for a bull to become a star on the Professional Bull Riders tours or at the high-stakes, big-money American Bucking Bulls, Inc. (ABBI) events to which he takes his bulls around the country.

He’s looking for WOW.


• • • •


Long revels in what happens in the arena itself, where he supervises the transformation of an awkward calf into an indomitable athlete.

Gary Long pets one of the clones of bucking-bull Dr. Proctor on Thursday, March 22, 2012. Long is part-owner in the clones, and in addition to their bucking prowess, Long says they all share a mellow personality. (SARA GETTYS/Yakima Herald-Republic)

But perhaps just as delicious for the dreamer and the not-so-mad scientist within Long is what goes on behind the scenes. It is, in fact, within test tubes, cell cultures and embryonic membranes that Long is going about creating the perfect bull. Or, if he can, a whole lot of perfect bulls.

Long lost one of those earlier this spring. Ranger Pride had been a star at the Futurity level for 2-year-olds, at the Derby level for 3-year-olds and as a 4-year-old in the ABBI’s showcase Classic circuit.

“He was on his way,” Long says, a touch of nostalgia in his voice. “He was No. 6 in the world, and all the bulls that eventually won (at the ABBI finals), he had beaten them in their early years.”

But at an ABBI Classic event in Pueblo, Colo., during the 3.5 seconds it took him to buck off his rider and win the event, he cracked his right horn on the bucking chute. The horn was either already deeply infected or got that way, all the way to the bone, and it ended up costing the bull his career and eventually his life.

Ranger Pride died five weeks ago.

But Long believes as many as a half-dozen bulls, in the perhaps 150 bulls he’s raising on his ranch, have that same “wow” factor. If six doesn’t sound like a lot, consider this: All it takes is one to win purses of $100,000, $200,000 or even more at top-level ABBI events, and top-tier bulls on the Professional Bull Riders tours — like Dr. Proctor — are huge earners. A champion bull can be worth enough in breeding potential — or, for that matter, in simple bragging rights — to command a seven-figure sale price.

It’s big business. And Long is definitely a go-big-or-stay-home kind of guy.


• • • •


What makes Long’s growing status in the bull-bucking world so remarkable is that he’s so new to it.

He’d shown steers at the county fair as a 4H kid at his family’s South Naches ranch, but bulls didn’t become a large part of his world until 2005. That’s when he went to check on the progress of an irrigation pond being built at his Cowiche orchard. The pond builder was Rod Chumley, then the co-owner of a young bull named Dr. Proctor.

“He’s talking to these guys (Dennis Hiebert and another ranch employee), and he was so excited, throwing his hands up in the air,” Long recalls. “I’m thinking, well, there’s got to be a story there.”

As Long approached, Hiebert — who now oversees Long’s bull operation — told Chumley, “You need to talk to this guy about this bull.”

He did, and Long — taken with Chumley’s enthusiasm and sensing an intriguing opportunity — immediately offered to buy in as a part-owner. But he became anything but a silent partner. He became fascinated with the genetic aspect — breeding for the specific qualities that great bulls had.

It was Long’s idea to clone Dr. Proctor. One of the eight clones, Doc Holliday, has bucked off 13 of his 14 riders, was the top bull at last September’s PRCA Pendleton Roundup and a month later was in the stock lineup at the PBR Finals in Las Vegas.

And Doc Holliday might not even be the best of the clones. One of the last two clones, born a year after the first six, is still unnamed — he’s bull No. 845 — but Long and Hiebert have a feeling about him.

“We think he might be the best one of the entire bunch,” Hiebert says. “He’s getting as high as Doc did, and he’s turning on his second jump, just like Doc did.”

He’s a chip off the old block. Or, in this case, plug of cloned tissue.


• • • •


But it’s the genetic strategies, not the cloning, that really interests Long. He carefully selects the sire and the dam — the papa and the mama bull whose genetics he wants passed on. He purchases straws of semen from the sire’s owner and purchases a flush of embryonic fluid from the dam’s owner — and then speeds up the process.

“When you have a mom that produces ‘wows,’ you can flush her and instead of having one egg (that can be inseminated and become a calf), she can have multiple,” Long says.

“You AI (artificially inseminate) her at her peak cycle with the semen from say, Asteroid” — a famous Louisiana-based bull that’s in the running for bull of the year honors — “and then you flush all those eggs out of her.”

The embryos that appear to have the greatest chance for success are then transferred into surrogate mothers that will carry each through to delivery. The dam, meanwhile, is available to be inseminated again with semen from another champion sire — say, Buckey, a top PBR bull owned by Craig Wentz of Prosser. Long bought 12 straws of Buckey genetics from Wentz.

“You’re not going to get a superstar out of every one,” Long says. “It’s going to be one out of 20, or one out of 100.”

Or one out of five. Several years ago, Long paid $3,000 each for five embryos out of the same flush, each having been sired by a bull named Raspberry Wine. Only two embryos survived the process and were carried to birth by surrogate mothers. One became Ranger Pride. The other wasn’t a bucker and ended up going to a slaughterhouse in Toppenish.

As far as Hiebert is concerned, even that result was remarkable.

“It’s a crap shoot,” he says. “He had the five embryos and one did well. That’s phenomenal.

“(Long) gets the best genetics in the bulls he can possibly get. He was smart enough, early in the deal, in ’06, to start buying these embryos back when people weren’t buying them, and he was. That’s why he’s where he is today: He bought embryos that had good genes and the genes passed on to the heifers.”

“It’s all genetics,” Long says. “You can increase your odds dramatically with the choices that you make.”


• • • •


Back at the South Naches bucking arena, Long and his arena hands are watching and grading everything each bull does. Is that bull irritated enough at that remote-controlled weight on his back to do everything necessary? Is he trying acrobatic jumps, high kicks, the kind of twists that would send a human rider flying?

As soon as the bull makes the right combination of moves, Hiebert hits the button that releases the weight. Long scribbles notes onto his notepad, occasionally referring back to notes from each bull’s previous turn in the arena to check for bucking behavior patterns.

The news on this day is very good. There are a half-dozen bulls that rate an “A” — which means the same thing to Long and his bull handlers that it would to a school student — and a surprising number of “A+” scores.

And, yes, a few rank even better than that.

One, a 2-year-old sired by none other than Dr. Proctor, explodes around the ring with a savage ferocity. The “rider” lasts barely three seconds. From all around the arena — neighbors, bull owners, wives, arena hands and Long — come hoots and whoos.

“Best one of the day!” Hiebert calls across the arena.

Gary Long just smiles and writes onto his notebook the very thing he’s looking for.


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One Response to “Creating ‘wow’: Through cloning, genetic strategy Gary Long eyes the perfect bull”
  1. RONALD LONG says:


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