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Published February 11, 2013, 10:35 AM

Stock-driven

Biggest in the Dakotas, Black Hills Stock Show draws a crowd.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

RAPID CITY, S.D. — 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 are going to be standing in a pasture somewhere this spring. They come here to buy bulls that will give them the right birth rate and the growth calves.”

Exhibitors are focused on producing bulls that will help improve herds, Jeffries says. “The reason consignors come here is not to sell a bull, but to advertise to everyone who comes here that this is a piece of what they’ll do … at their local sale barn or ranch in March. That’s where they’ll sell 60 or 100 bulls. This show is a marketing opportunity for purebred producers.

“I think they come because it’s the biggest livestock event in the region,” Jeffries says. “We don’t charge an admission to get into the show. We don’t charge you to park. There’s tons of friends and family here to visit with; it’s very social. And it’s a great place to do business and be entertained.”

Most events individually don’t make money, but they bring people to town and contribute to traffic for the rodeos and other entertainment, trade show and cattle shows. “They’ll do their business during the day — whether that’s buying or selling horses, or cattle, or product — and then they’ll do their entertainment in the evening.”

The winter show

The event was started as a Winter Show in 1958 by the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce Ag Committee. Events initially were held at the Central States Fairgrounds. The show was timed right after Christmas and right before calving. After six years, the chamber gave the event to the fair, which ran it in a large Quonset with an asphalt floor.

In 1980, the cattle show was moved to the Rushmore Plaza Convention Center. The brick structure was built in 1977 and has since gone through three major expansions — mostly to accommodate the stock show.

Under Jeffries’ leadership, attendance has doubled. There initially was a horse show, cattle shows and a rodeo. With the expansions of the civic center, 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.

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