Monday, January 19, 2009

Pictures from the National Western Stock Show

DENVER, Colorado -- During this year's interminable election season, the McCain campaign resurrected a quaint yet poisonous notion: that we live in two Americas, one of them "real," and one of them "fake." Well, this past weekend I found the real America, and it was at the National Western Stock Show, the country's largest cattle showcase that has been held at the Denver stock yards since 1906. This is the second year in a row that I have gone to the stock show, and I thought I would share some of my highlights from this year's event.

Below I have posted a video of the Hereford cattle auction we attended. The bull up for sale in the video - his name was Patton, and he hailed from the Double L Ranch in Hearne, TX - sold for $57,500, and that was just for a 50% stake in him. The consortium of buyers that bought the share ranged from Montana to Illinois to Texas, meaning this young bull (he was just over a year old) will log a lot of miles traveling across the country to stud.

I found the auctioneer's voice mesmerizing, and it reminded me a lot of some sort of Central Asian throat singing. In addition to selling bulls and cows, embryos and sperm - as well as partial shares of them - were up for auction. Genetics and scientific breeding are a major part of modern animal husbandry, but it is still fascinating to see people buying and selling genetic material and advertising their animals' sexual functions. The stock yards are plastered with fliers advertising animals and their impeccable genetics, like the "Face of Change" pictured above. Another bull up for sale at the same auction carried this description in auction booklet:
861U is a fantastic prospect for the future! He is very easy fleshing with a huge hindquarter and powerful muscle from end to end. He is very sound with 100% pigment and a large scrotum. His dam [mother] is a very efficient, productive and fertile cow with an excellent udder.
Very few animals are actually sold at the stock show. Most farmers come to Denver simply to show off their livestock and have their pictures taken, in the hope that buyers will take notice of their product. People travel from as far away as New England simply to show off their cows. Obviously, they want their animals to look good, so washing and grooming is very important; often the result is cows that resemble show dogs instead of farm animals.

After the auction, we ended the day at the rodeo inside the Denver Coliseum. The competition was good, though there were a lot of "no times" in many events we saw on that particular evening. The slack (the entertainment in between the rodeo events), however, was fantastic. Mutton busting is easily my favorite rodeo event, when four- and five-year-old children are placed on the backs of frightened sheep and forced to hang on for dear life.

But the high point of the stock show, and perhaps this entire year for me, was definitely seeing a bunch of monkeys riding dogs and herding goats into a pen. I leave you with this amazing video:

The stock show runs until January 25.

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