Magazine article Sunset

Denver Takes Stock

Magazine article Sunset

Denver Takes Stock

Article excerpt

From livestock to a rodeo, hunter and jumper competitions to an art sale, the West's biggest stock show is one bull market

Only female ducks quack. A pig is called a hog after it hits 126 pounds. Lettuce can be lethal to rabbits because they can't pass gas. And that's just some of the cool stuff visitors are learning on a barn tour that's part of Denver's big National Western Stock Show, Rodeo & Horse Show.

For travelers passing through Denver (say, on their way to Rockies ski slopes) or locals tired of watching football, a visit to the stock show is a great winter escape. And a tour is a sensible way to make introductions with this giant event - it sprawls over stockyards, a stadium, a coliseum, two arenas, and a horse show center.

Tour guide and master of farm trivia Sondra Wallace has the kids absolutely riveted. "How many teeth does a rabbit have?" one child asks. Wallace knows (32). She then leads the tour from the small animal pens down into cattle barns where breeds bear such exotic names as Gelbvieh, Tarentaise, and Maine-Anjou. Two-thousand-pound bulls are primped like beauty contestants - well, sort of: They're scrubbed, blow-dried, and brushed endlessly by owners prepping them for their ribbon walk. The tour group titters at Wallace's careful explanation of the characteristics the judges will be looking for in the cattle ("big butts," in particular, catches the group's collective attention). After all, most of these folks are city slickers - they think cattle are treated along the lines of the song from Rawhide: "Don't try to understand 'em/just rope 'em, pull and brand 'em." Which is why the barn tours are so necessary, and so popular.

In 1906, when the National Western began, they didn't need tours like this - most of the attendees pretty well knew their way around the barn. Then the show consisted mostly of livestock judging and sales with a few horse show events thrown in for fun. Today it's the country's largest livestock event and rodeo, but there's even more to it than that. The 94th annual show will spread over 16 days and include a bison show, Children's Ranchland (a petting zoo), and a Western art show and sale.

Once you're inside, you can watch a lot of great events for free, like the stock dogs competition and the sheep-shearing contest (a speedy event that takes more out of the sweating shearer than the animal, who sits quietly on his haunches as if getting a haircut). …

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