Charlie Gibson started rodeo 12 years ago, when he was five. “My dad (Casey Tyree) and my sister (Brittany Winslett – 7 years older) competed,” […]
On The Trail with Burch Rodeo
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Max and George Ann Burch come from a long line of ranchers. The couple, who are in their 70s, met back in the 1950s in high school. “My folks had a ranch north of Moorcroft and her dad bought a ranch adjoining the ranch that my dad had,” said Max. They got married in 1965. The couple eventually settled back on the family ranch, living in her grandmother’s (Hazel Pickrel) original homestead, built in 1929 and added on to throughout the years. The ranch is 15 miles southeast of Rozet, Wyoming, which has a post office, school, and café/bar.
Their sons, Matt and Chad, were born in 1976. Chad is older by two minutes. George Ann found out she was having twins less than two weeks before they were born. Both boys grew up ranching and rodeoing, competing in junior rodeos through junior rodeos, high school and on to college. George Ann admits that she couldn’t take her eyes off them for more than five minutes at a time. “We got new knives one time,” recalled Matt. “So we went to the barn where the saddles were and shortened all the saddle strings as well as the cinches. One of the hands thought it was mice, but dad knew better. Our punishment for that was to stay home from cattle work that day – we didn’t mind – it was 30 below.” Matt competed in bareback riding, winning the Wyoming High School Rodeo Finals three years in a row and went to Nationals, placing in the top ten each year. He went on to PRCA and made the circuit finals, won it a few times, filled his permit. He quit competing when the family got busy in the rodeo stuff and he had a daughter. Chad competed in saddle bronc riding and bull dogging; both boys team roped.
Max started in the rodeo business in 1981. “Burch Rodeo Company started as a side line we got in on and we’ve gotten bigger in it than we ever planned to be,” said Max. “It’s what the boys want to do.” The business started when Pat Byrne from Mill Iron, Montana, came looking for pasture. “He was raising bucking horses and we made a deal to run 25 mares on shares. In the fall, when we pulled the colts off, he got the studs and we got the fillies. We had a stud we used in partnership.”
In 1985 it got really dry and things were getting slow with the drought and Pat decided to sell out. Max bought the mares that were on the place. “We continued on with that stud until 1987. They called him Last Stand. In 1987, right after we turned him out with the mares, he was injured and I called Ernie Toot in Montana and asked if he had a stud I could buy. He had some young studs so we drove up there.”
The plan was to pick up a gray stud, but Max eyed a different one – a three year old bay. “I walked through them horses looking at them and what impressed me about that horse – those horses would be chewing on each other, but that horse never quit looking at you as long as you were there and moving around.” The horse ended up siring many NFR broncs for Burch Rodeo. “Everything just worked,” said Max, who bought Tooke for $800. His offspring were big horses, one of them being the most recently retired Lunatic Fringe, out of an own daughter of Tooke.
Even though Burch horses and bulls make appearances at the WNFR, Max and George Ann have only been to Vegas once. “I don’t like flying or crowds,” admitted Max. Instead they send Matt, Chad, and most recently, Matt’s daughter, Bailey, who has moved back home to help on the ranch.
Bailey lived on the ranch all her life, and left for three years to go to college on a rodeo scholarship in Ranger, Texas. The 21 year old came back this year in May of 2016. “I wanted to start helping with the ranch and rodeo company. I want to see it progress and it’s a family tradition,” she said. “I really loved the coach (Llew Rust) and I liked the environment and I’m going to finish my degree in Ag Business online. I missed home.” She lives seven miles from the ranch and travels with her dad and uncle to the rodeos where she flanks the bulls and will eventually flank the horses too.
The ranch, which encompasses 170,000 acres of owned, deeded, and leased land, is home to 750 bucking horses, 140 bucking bulls, and 2,000 Red Angus mother cows. Ten people work on the ranch and the winter chores include feeding hay to the rodeo stock that will be competing throughout the winter months. “The only hay we feed is 200 head that we are bucking. The rest are all running out on grass.” The majority of the bucking horses are kept in an 11,000 acre pasture. The yearlings up to the coming four year olds all run together and are gathered once a year to sort off the older ones and add the weanlings to the bunch.
One of Chad’s favorite parts of ranch life comes in September when he brings in the horses. “It takes 10 days to halter break, brand and castrate the yearlings,” he explained. “They we turn them loose until they are coming 5.” They have a big barn by Moorcroft that is set up with bucking chutes, and that’s where Chad spends many days, putting dummies on the horses, bucking them out four or five times, and making sure they behave in the chutes. Foaling starts the beginning of May and by then the horses are sorted into pastures with a stud, where they will stay until September.
While Chad is busy breaking the horses, Matt is busy with the hunting operation. “The lodge is 35 miles from here, between Moorcroft and Upton. We have hunters from September 1 until November 30. Hunters come from the East Coast to the West Coast, Canada and as far as Germany to the ranch to hunt antelope, deer, and elk. The family runs the ranch like a well-oiled machine. Chad and Matt both agree the secret is being able to compromise. “If we’re sorting, I have the list memorized in my head and we go through it,” said Chad. “It’s a give and take.” Most recently, the crew sorted 66 head to go to Rapid City. “We’ll come back for another 32 later in the week.” After Rapid City, they will have a rodeo every week all year long.
“I think the future of the bucking horses is going to get big,” said Matt. “The bucking bulls got big because of the PBR, and the ABBI has helped with that. You could prove the genetics. Bucking horses are the same way, and BHBA, Steve Stone and Kenny Andrews, and ABBI – It’s moving forward and there are more futurities for horses. If you go to a sale now, you can prove what your horse is. We love doing it …”
“We’ve got a lot of land, and could run a lot of cows if we got rid of the horses, but they mean as much as the cattle to us, ranch or bucking, it’s what we’ve always done. We’re going to keep raising them and hopefully Bailey will keep running with it. Mom and Dad provided us this lifestyle and it took a lot of years to get where we are with our card, and now we’re going to big rodeos that we want to go to … everything is set and ready to go.”