For the past 50 years, the Sleichter family has provided the hay for the bucking horses and bulls at the Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo in Abilene, Kansas.
It started in the 1970s with Jack Sleichter, who was heavily involved in the Central Kansas Free Fair and volunteered in many ways, including as swine show superintendent.
Then it continued with Jack’s son Jerry and Jerry’s children Jay and Jeff and daughter Jill, and now it continues with the next generation.
In July, when the hay is ready, Jeff and Jay head to the field to mow hay, then let it dry, bale it, and bring it home.
Then when the bucking horses and bulls arrive at the rodeo grounds in Abilene, he and his family bring in bales for the animals to have good quality hay to eat.
Fair week is a busy one for the Sleichters. Jeff remembers showing cattle and hogs as a youth, and he and Meredith’s kids Riley and Jackie showed.
Cutting hay has to be strategically planned; if it rains on the hay when it’s mown, the moisture lessens its quality, so Jeff tries to mow hay when there’s no chance of rain.
Quality hay for the horses and cattle is important, Jeff said. “There’s always that little tension. You don’t want to put a bunch of hay down (to dry) and then get a rain shower, and have hay that isn’t just right.”
The anials need quality feed, and Jeff takes pride in caring for the animals while they’re in Abilene. “You want to make sure you do it right. There’s a responsibility to take good care of them while they’re here.”
It takes between 250 and 350 bales, all small square bales weighing about 70 lbs. each, to feed the approximately 100 head of bulls and horses.
It’s a treat for the Sleichter family when they bring in the hay bales, because they get to see the rodeo animals. “As a little kid, it was a big deal, to see the bulls and the broncs,” Jeff said. He and Jay make sure their kids have a chance to go along. “We’d make sure the kids went along when we took the first load of hay in, so they could see the rodeo stock up close.”
The family takes in a few nights of the rodeo, which Jeff enjoys. “It’s been fun to watch the rodeo change and grow and improve over the years,” he said. “That’s always been exciting to see the developments that have taken place.”
No one knows when Jack began providing hay; Jeff thinks it could be more than 50 years ago.
It’s an honor for the Sleichter family to provide the hay.
“It was important to my granddad and dad,” Jeff said. “It’s important to us, so we continue to do it.”
Jay and his wife Linda live in Clay Center. They have five children; daughters Katie, Maggie, Laine, and Natalie, and son John.
Sister Jill Sleichter Deines lives in Manhattan with her husband Derek and their children Raychel and Bryce.
This year’s Abilene rodeo takes place August 1-4 at 7:30 pm each night at the Central Kansas Free Fairgrounds. Tickets are $10 through July 31; on August 1, they go to $13. Children’s tickets are $7 for ages 4-10. For more information, visit WildBillHickokRodeo.com
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Photo – The view from the driver’s seat, in the tractor, as Jeff Sleichter cuts prairie hay, to be fed to the bucking horses and bulls at the Abilene rodeo. Photo by Jeff Sleichter