Mutton-busting is no longer allowed at Castro Valley’s Rowell Ranch after the Alameda County Board of Supervisors banned the rodeo event in which young children ride sheep like a bronco. Animal rights advocates have long argued the event and others at the annual rodeo instill fear in the animals and in many cases physical trauma.
Tuesday’s 3-2 vote, however, highlighted a split between county supervisors who represents parts of rural East Alameda County and those in the urban areas. Supervisors Nate Miley and Scott Haggerty voted against the ban. Both represent the agricultural areas of Castro Valley and the Tri-Valley.
The Board of Supervisors appeared headed toward a ban on mutton-busting earlier this year. The board’s planning committee directed county staff to draft an ordinance back on Jan. 15.
Board President Richard Valle suggested Tuesday that Miley and agricultural interests in the county had stymied the ordinance from moving forward this year.
“My only regret is that its taken 12 months to get to this point,” Valle said. The difficulty stemmed from his belief “there is so much internal support for the rodeo that people began to put the rodeo first before the direction that was given by this board.” Earlier this year, Valle appeared disturbed by videos depicting cruelty against sheep and cows at the rodeo.
“There is a dispute whether mutton busting is a cruel treatment to animals, and until that can be reconciled, in my mind, I don’t think this ordinance is appropriate.”-Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley
Miley did not take the comment kindly, noting the ban only affects the Rowell Ranch, which is in his district. The county’s agriculture advisory committee and Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Council was not given an opportunity to vet the mutton-busting ordinance prior to Tuesday, Miley said.
However, Miley admitted doing the mutton-busting ban ordinance no favors in reaching a prompt discussion before the Board of Supervisors. “I didn’t tell the staff not to bring it, but I also wasn’t encouraging them to bring it.”
Back in January, Miley voiced similar opposition to the mutton-busting ban, but appeared persuaded after learning the ASPCA had recommended a similar prohibition. Miley previously voted for the direction to draft an ordinance. But his tune changed demonstratively on Tuesday when he strongly questioned whether the activity is abusive to animals.
“There is a dispute whether mutton busting is a cruel treatment to animals, and until that can be reconciled, in my mind, I don’t think this ordinance is appropriate,” Miley said.
He then blasted the large number of speakers who spoke in favor of the ban. “Clearly the agenda is to ban the rodeo. The agenda is do away with anything that affects animals,” Miley said. “There’s an agenda here and I think it’s pretty apparent. If anyone is not recognizing that agenda then I think they have the wool pulled over their eyes.”
Haggerty followed with a similar rancorous statement when he suggested some of the comments made by opponents of mutton-busting were hypocritical unless they eat salad for dinner.
“I really hope that everybody that came down here today to talk about getting rid of mutton-busting and talking about cruelty to animals goes home and eats a salad,” an irritated Haggerty said.
When some in the audience said they will, Haggerty responded, “I’m not doubting it. Some of you will. But some are you are going have a big steak, a lamb chop, a side of a ham, and if you want to know about animal cruelty, go to a slaughterhouse.”
He added the mutton-busting ban threatens to push agriculture out of Alameda County
But while the Board of Supervisor’s chambers was filled with crisp cowboy hats and large, shiny belt buckles, animal rights activists repeatedly detailed the cruelty the entertainment event poses for farm animals at the rodeo.
“I don’t believe anybody in this room is intentionally cruel to animals. If animals could talk, you would hear an entirely different story,” said Eric Mills, the founder of Action for Animals, which has long opposed mutton-busting and other rodeo events in Alameda County.
Opponents of the ban described mutton-busting as a reminder of the county’s agricultural and ranching heritage, while teaching children to respect and care for animals. “I’m a mother of a nine-year-old who is a former mutton-buster,” said public speaker Mary Lodge, “and to this day he is very upset and very sad that other kids will not have the opportunity to mutton-bust.