Saturday October 7, 2000

Fowl Ropers Run Afoul Of Activists

Byline: Fritz Thompson
Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
Category: New Mexico
Edition: Final
Page: E3

* Cowboy Symposium's second annual chicken-lassoing competition succumbs to pressure of animal-rights group

Animal-rights activists have fried a chicken-roping contest in Ruidoso Downs.

There will be no second annual New Mexico Chicken Roping competition advertised as about 10 minutes of frivolity during the Oct. 12-15 Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium.

People at United Poultry Concerns Inc. in Virginia didn't think the idea was funny. "Stick up for chickens!" a caption on the organization's Web site reads.

"If cowboys are going to bully birds who have done them no harm, United Poultry Concerns will publicize their cowardice," a news release from the organization said.

"This was not an important part of the symposium, so it was not that hard to call it off," said Bruce Eldredge, director of the sponsoring Hubbard Museum of the American West in Ruidoso Downs.

Eldredge said the roping was canceled "because we couldn't absolutely guarantee that a chicken wouldn't be hurt."

"We had a chicken-roping contest last year and none of the chickens were harmed," he said. "But if you hold it again and a chicken accidently gets hurt, you're toast."

Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns in Machipongo, Va., said late Friday she hadn't heard of the decision but was "delighted."

"I talked to her by telephone yesterday," Eldredge said Friday, "and she called me cowardly, cruel and unmanly and said we were stooping to sickly stunts. She didn't give me a chance to say much."

Eldredge said the museum received about 115 e-mails, calls and faxes concerning the event.

"I would say about 90 percent of them were negative," he said. "Most of them came from the Midwest and the East Coast, which doesn't mean they can't have an opinion, too."

"We urge the museum to divorce itself from roping chickens and to cancel the cockamaniac event immediately," the United Poultry Concerns news release said.

Eldredge said he called off the chicken roping after conferring with Ellen Lucas, head of the Lincoln County Humane Association. Lucas is also a director of development at the museum.

"She said we should consider the perceptions of size; a cowboy is bigger than a chicken," Eldredge said. "Roping a chicken is not like roping a 200- to 300-pound steer.

"We're a privately operated museum, but we depend a lot on public support."

The roping event would have been conducted by Joe Rhodes, owner of Joe's Boot Shop in Muleshoe, Texas, and chief chicken wrangler at last year's symposium roping contest.

"Some people seem to think we're trying to hurt something," he said by telephone Friday. "We've never hurt one yet and don't intend to."

Rhodes said he didn't dispute the decision. "I wouldn't want to do anything that would jeopardize the museum," he said.

Chicken roping is done on foot by teams, with a "header," who uses a cotton rope to lasso the chicken around the neck, and a "heeler," who ropes the chicken by the legs.

"We don't truss them up in a little bundle, like some people say," Eldredge said.

He said the symposium, in its 11th year, is "the nation's leading cowboy heritage event."

Last year, the museum had 130,000 visitors. It features Western art and has one of the most extensive collections of carriages and other similar wheeled vehicles. Related Links: