A rodeo event known as mutton bustin' will soon be banned in Alameda County thanks to a Tuesday vote by the county Board of Supervisors.
The ban, proposed by the animal rights groups In Defense of Animals and the Coalition for a More Humane Alameda County, passed on a 3-to-2 vote, with supervisors Scott Haggerty and Nate Miley opposed.
It prohibits the event that involves young children being placed on the backs of sheep, which typically then run around a pen or arena until the child falls off.
"We're not trying to ban rodeo, we're trying to add some requirements that will eliminate or change the cruelest practices," said Matthew Hamity of In Defense of Animals.
"The only reason that (mutton busting) works as an event is that the sheep has no idea what's going on and it's scared," Hamity said. "It wouldn't work if they weren't freaking out."
While the ban will affect all of the unincorporated areas of Alameda County, in practice it will only apply to the Rowell Ranch Pro Rodeo in Castro Valley, the only such event in the unincorporated part of the county.
The Alameda County Agricultural Advisory Committee, which advises the Board of Supervisors, submitted a letter in opposition to the ban.
The committee asked the board to postpone a vote so committee members could work with stakeholders on "policies to ensure the humane treatment of animals specific to this event."
"The characterization that (mutton busting) is cruel, harmful to children and provides no benefit to the development of ranching skills is not supported by the facts," the letter states.
Rowell Ranch Pro Rodeo organizers issued a statement Wednesday decrying the decision to ban mutton busting.
"The new ordinance was made against the expert advice of the county's own Agricultural Advisory Committee (a committee that includes experts appointed by each supervisor to represent their district) and without review by the Castro Valley (Municipal Advisory Council) board. The full input of the Rowell Ranch Pro Rodeo Committee was never considered," the statement says.
"Mutton busting is an event that gives children the opportunity to experience the community's rural ranching heritage and the sport of rodeo under safe, controlled conditions," the statement reads. "The Alameda County Sheriff and County Animal Control have never issued a report against the rodeo. Supervisors (Wilma) Chan, (Richard) Valle and (Keith) Carson did not attend the Rowell Ranch Pro Rodeo and thus chose to make their decision without any firsthand knowledge."
In order to take effect, the ban must be voted on one more time by the supervisors. If it passes again without modification or amendments, it will go into effect in 30 days after the second vote.
The date for that vote has not yet been set.
Hamity said he understands that people enjoy the event but he believes there are better ways to teach children about animals.
"I'm sure it's a nice family moment and the children do have a good time," Hamity said. "It's not to demonize them, but there are other ways to learn the values of respect for animals and ranching traditions and just getting outside and enjoying the fresh air. You can do that and spend quality time with your family without having to resort to terrifying an animal."
The animal rights groups are now planning to ask supervisors to ban "bucking straps" and spurs and to require that calf-roping competitors use breakaway ropes that won't harm the animals, Hamity said.