Jim Korkow: stock contractor by occupation, cowboy at heart
Unless you have been around rodeos, hearing the term stock contractor might make you raise an eyebrow. Perhaps, you might be thinking what does that entail? A stock contractor plays a crucial role in every rodeo you’ll see or get to experience today. These are some of the hardest working people you will come across in the professional sport of rodeo but, you may never even see them from the audience!
In 1975, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association created the circuit system. Since the very first year the National Circuit Finals Rodeo was held, Jim Korkow of Korkow Rodeos has been providing the livestock in addition to other stock contractors from across the US. Jim Korkow has personally attended every RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo since the very beginning! He is a wealth of knowledge about the sport of rodeo, livestock and the duties of a stock contractor.
Korkow Rodeos Bucking Horse Feather Fluffer 2016 RAM NCFR
When you speak to Mr. Jim Korkow of Korkow Rodeos, he will tell you, “I wear lots of different hats, but most of the time, I wear one, and that’s a cowboy hat.”
“As a stock contractor, I am a businessman who negotiates all the contracts with rodeo committees and for the livestock. I manage and help maintain a 20,000-acre ranch in South Dakota, which my animals are raised on, so I am a farmer. We create, maintain and provide the feed for our animals; we are their providers. We care for the animals by treating them with vaccinations to keep them healthy and we make sure they receive veterinarian attention when needed. We have to be diplomatic to keep hired help. We have to be able to hire and fire as needed, so basically we are HR departments. We are a hauling company that gets our animals to and from each rodeo safely, all while maintaining the big rigs we drive.” As you can see several hats are necessary to be a stock contractor in the sport of rodeo!
Jim Korkow is a third generation cowboy from South Dakota. His Grandfather, Otto Korkow was German and came across the Atlantic by boat from Germany, landing on Ellis Island in the 1920s. One thing led to another, and he ended up farming and ranching in the Dakota’s. Jim’s father, Ervin Korkow ended up quitting school in the eighth grade to go to work on the ranch to help pay their family bills. “My father was the boss until the day he died. He made the decisions, and we made it happen.” The ranch Ervin Korkow managed is now the ranch Jim owns and manages today. Ervin Korkow’s memory lives on as he was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame as a stock contractor.
In the 1950s, the Korkows started a breeding program for bucking horses and bulls. “My father went to Montana and purchased five bred mares from a fellow named Pete Tooke; five were colts and three were stallions. These horses were our foundation stallions for our breeding program.” Today, all of the Korkow livestock are raised on their ranch in South Dakota. This spring they had 325 horses and 50 new baby colts added to the mix.
In 1958, Korkow Rodeo became a PRCA member. The very first national finals rodeo was held in 1959 one year later, and since Korkow was a PRCA member, this made them eligible to compete with their livestock. Every year since they have qualified to have bucking horses or bulls buck at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo!
So how does this livestock training process work? You may wonder how someone breeds, raises and cares for these animals.
In terms of breeding, “We sort the mares in different groups and pastures, then we put a stallion with each group of mares. The mares are sorted to hopefully make a good crossbreed. We check on the horses regularly. By about mid-November, we drive the horses to the barn to start cataloging them or taking record of their bloodlines, who the mother and father are, etc. We place them through a working chute. You have to understand these are not broke horses; they are still new and fairly wild. In order to keep them from playing, i.e., jumping or kicking, we have to bring them through the chutes to care for them. This is where they will get vaccinated as well as earn their livestock number and brand. Their number goes on the high left hip, and the brand goes on the left hip mid-way. The first number they receive coincides with the year they were born. For example, 2018, so the new colts received the number 8 followed by a 0 and then the third digit is the number in which they were in line coming through the working chute.”
After this process is complete in November, the colts then go into different pens to help wean them off of their mothers. “We feed them quality hay, grain, and provide water every day. Typically, they eat better than most humans, if you compare it to a steak dinner. When we grain the first week, we typically place the colts with a saddle horse who helps guide them.” This stage in the process goes on until the colt is about four years old. At four years old, Korkow will take a look at them and start testing their athletic ability. “Physical appearance doesn’t matter much, i.e., a horse’s color, size of their heads, how big he is, etc., so long as they are healthy and athletic. Training a horse to buck isn’t something you really have to do. If you ever watch colts or calves when they play, they run, jump, kick and buck. Some horses are specifically training to go to work on race tracks, trained to work cows on the ranch, some are trained to pull carriages and mine are trained to play for 8 seconds in the arena.” At the Korkow ranch, they train the horses how to exit the bucking chutes and test their bucking ability with test bucking dummies first. Depending on the horse’s ability after this point, they will allow some of the bucking horses to begin to enter youth rodeos, high school rodeos or 4-H rodeos. The contestants that ride them are typically 19 years old or younger, allowing the horses to work up in levels of competition and better their ability inside the arena. Depending on how well or quickly they progress, the bucking horses can move into the pro rodeo level as early as age five.
Since the work of a stock contractor is pretty rigorous, we asked Jim what his favorite part is. “At every rodeo we attend, no two rodeos are ever the same, and there is a hard-working committee of people that put them on. Everytime we arrive at a rodeo, it’s like a family reunion every week, just different families. We take care of one another. I also take pride in watching my animals compete. They are my family.” If you don’t think Jim loves what he does, think again. He will take trips from Kissimmee, Florida straight to Seattle, Washington in a straight line to be there for his rodeo committees. He travels away from home about 180 days out of the year. That’s a long haul if it’s not for love! In addition, Jim enjoys helping our cowboys of tomorrow by hosting a three-day rodeo camp every April. All youth are welcome to attend! He brings in world champion rodeo professionals to help teach the rodeo youth of the next generation. You can tell when you talk to him this brings him great joy!
Jim Korkow and his wife Carol Korkow
We hope that you’ll come to witness his talented livestock at the next RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo April 3 & 4, 2020 in Kissimmee. You are likely not to be disappointed!