By Joe Roberts @JROBERTSJOURNO
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Videographer / director: Marcus Copper
Producer: Joe Roberts, Ruby Coote
Editor: Shiona Penrake
Renee Castleman made the news in 2018 with her family-run breeding business GatorHead Bullies – home to the 120-pound pit bull Buster.
Now, 130-pound Chop is proving to be a hit with Renee’s high-end clients – including NBA and NFL stars who are wowed by Chop’s bulk and unique, tri-colour ‘merle’ coat.
Renee told Barcroft Studios: “Chop is one of the upcoming biggest dogs on our yard. Of course, Buster is always going to be one of our favorites, but right now Chop is what people are wanting.
“I think a lot of my customers might tend to choose Chop over Buster just because they want that colour and size.”
Chop’s ‘merle’ appearance means his coat is a combination of black, brown, and white and his eyes are a striking, almost red hue – making him quite the attraction for prospective clients.
At 130 pounds he’s also reaching gigantic proportions, and at just 15 months old, still has a lot of growing to do.
But it’s Buster, whose stud fee currently stands at $8,000, who remains the leader of the pack –even though Chop’s stud fee is currently higher.
As Renee puts it: “Because right now merle tri-colours are so expensive, Chop’s stud fee is at 10 grand. But despite Chop being the upcoming biggest dog in our yard, Buster is still the king.”
The 17-acre farm in rural Mississippi currently boasts 18 XL American Bullies as part of its breeding program, alongside three French Bulldogs and one English Bulldog.
There’s also a continuous rotation of new puppies, all of which will be highly sought-after and could sell for anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000.
Aside from Chop overtaking the reigning king of the farm, there have been a slew of other changes at GatorHead Bullies.
Renee has now been joined by her husband Patrick, who quit his job as a car salesman to work full time with his wife.
Patrick said: “We just decided that if we were going to grow this thing at the rate that it needed to be grown it would take all hands on deck.
“I don’t miss selling cars at all. I did it for 10 years sales and management and this is much more exciting. It’s great being home with the family every day.”
Renee explained how the farm has developed elsewhere: “We purchased a van so we could start shipping our dogs ourselves, we started exercising our dogs more, adding runs so the dogs could have more room to play, and adding more dogs to our program.”
Of course, the couple’s children, Anna Ryleigh (two) and Brantlee (seven) are still a big part of the whole operation.
“Anna Ryleigh’s favorite part is the puppies,” said Renee. “Any kid loves puppies but every time she cries, we just get a puppy for her and she stops. We have a Frenchy which is her favorite puppy – she calls it ‘baby’."
The two-year-old is shaping up to become heir to her mum’s throne, helping out around the farm and demonstrating a genuine passion for raising the dogs.
Renee continued: “I do think Anna Ryleigh will take over the business in the future just because she reminds me a lot of myself when I was younger. Whenever we have puppies she’s picking them up, loving on them, holding them like babies.
“Everybody always asks me how my puppies are going to be and I always tell them they should be great just because Anna Ryleigh is there with them as soon as they're born.”
Renee and Patrick encourage as much of this interaction as possible to help their dogs develop even temperaments, and say they’re not too concerned about their daughter working with pit bulls.
“We’re always around her,” said Renee. “We’re always watching what she’s doing. We didn’t just throw our kids out in the pen and say ‘hey, let’s go play,’ we’re right there with them.”
Meanwhile, the couple’s son Brantlee has also been helping with the day-to-day running of the farm, and remains best friends with Buster.
“Buster is my favourite dog,” said Brantlee. “He’s sweet and he plays with me a lot. I will always want him to stay in the house.”
Patrick added: “Brantlee and Buster’s bond is a lifetime thing. We’ll never have another kid and dog bond like that ever.”
Meanwhile Renee is looking to continue growing the already hugely-successful business, and says she’s willing to put in the work to become the best.
“I'm very competitive so I'm going to keep growing this,” she said. “I like to be the best so I'm going to keep doing the best I can.”