A million little things: Pfannebecker’s NWSS win
Justin Pfannebecker said he stopped for a moment before leading his Grand Champion Market Steer into the sale ring at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. He was surrounded by his family — sister Elizabeth, brother and sister-in-law, Jacob and Bailey, and his parents, Phil and Sarah. He could hear world champion auctioneer John Korrey announce his name over the microphone and hear the din of the crowd. He said as he stepped into the ring, he was overtaken by chills at the gravity of the moment. He said the crowd was on their feet and the feeling was, and still is, indescribable.
It’s been said that a million little things must go right to win a major — Denver, Fort Worth, Houston, Kansas City — and he agrees. After all, at the NWSS market steer show, a three-judge panel chooses the champs so it’s more than just one man’s opinion on a given day.
Pfannebecker, who is the first Colorado exhibitor to win the steer show at the NWSS since Justin Lauridson did it in 1997, had a good year showing livestock. At the Weld County Fair, arguably one of the most competitive in the state, he earned Reserve Champion Market Beef honors and at the Colorado State Fair he exhibited both the Reserve Champion Market Beef and the steer that was chosen third overall. Coming into Denver, he had goals to qualify for the junior market livestock sale with both a steer and a market hog, knowing it was his last year of eligibility and his last Denver appearance. After the hog show, he hadn’t placed high enough to sell a hog in the sale. Although he said he was disappointed, he had two steers left to show and a portion of a goal to realize.
When he won his class with 1,333-pound Stan, he turned his attention solely to him and preparing for the green carpet of the grand drive.
“There’s nothing like it, they’re not wrong,” he said of the green carpet. “No other show shows on anything like that, even going to Kansas City they don’t have that.”
Back in Chariton, Iowa, a 16-year-old young man was also watching the show with particular interest. He was in bed with his feet up because due to the particular type of hemophilia he lives with, he internally bleeds into his joints. Today, he’s experiencing an ankle bleed. It’s painful and it kept him and his mom from jumping in the pickup and driving all night to Denver to watch in person. After Pfannebecker’s steer won his class, all Bode Druckenmiller’s attention was on Denver.
Pfannebecker purchased his Denver steer from Derek Sandy in Iowa, a Made to Order out of a Brilliance cow. Druckenmiller, who raised the steer, learned a great deal about the show cattle business at the elbow of his stepfather, Stan Ackerman. The steer’s dam was the first calf born on the small operation in Iowa and became Druckenmiller’s show heifer when he was just 10 years old and learning to clip and show alongside Ackerman. In 2019, Ackerman died unexpectedly, and it was then Bode took over the reins of the show cattle business, breeding what would become Pfannebecker’s steer shortly after Ackerman’s passing.
When the three-judge panel selected Pfannebecker’s steer as grand champion, it was Kayden Halls who had the honor of delivering the champion slap. Halls, who is a livestock exhibitor from Bayfield, Colo., was invited to join judges Shane Meier, Kirk Stierwalt, and Dustin Frank as part of the Make-a-Wish program. Halls was diagnosed with leukemia and referred to the program. For now, she is zeroed in on what she hopes will be a successful summer showing her stock.
As Halls was doling out the champion slap, that same young man in Chariton, Iowa, was overcome watching a steer he had raised win Denver. When he and his mom, Ashley VanDyk, saw a photo of Pfannebecker holding his sale banner, she realized how many little things came together. Pfannebecker, totally unaware of the back story, named his steer Stan the Man, the nickname Stan Ackerman was lovingly known by.
In another stroke of coincidence, Druckenmiller, like Halls, also received a wish through the Make-a-Wish program. He was referred to the program in 2016 due to the hemophilia that caused the painful bleed the week of the show. His wish was to meet the Dallas Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott and he spent a week in 2017 in Dallas, met the entire team, spent time on the sidelines prior to a game, and was the team’s special guest at a home game.
“When they say things just come together, that’s really how this feels,” Sarah said.
It’s a Denver tradition to display the champion and reserve steers at high tea at the historic and luxe Brown Palace Hotel. They’re treated to a drink from an ornate silver bowl and it’s truly where society and stock show meet.
“It’s truly like a bull in a china shop,” he said. “We walked in on the carpet and there were people all lined up on both sides. There were 300 people lined up to take photos, a chandelier hanging in the middle, people drinking tea, a piano player — there was a lot going on in there.”
That afternoon, when Korrey — who was thrilled to be back at the auction block after a year away with health concerns — dropped the gavel, his steer was purchased by Ames Construction, setting a record at $200,000. Pfannebecker is quick to point out, though, the money isn’t what showing cattle is all about. The win, he said, and the experiences are invaluable. It is, Sarah agreed, all about raising good kids through raising good livestock.
At home near LaSalle, Colo., the Pfannebeckers run about 150 mother cows and complete extensive IVF embryo work annually. Justin is currently showing a black and white steer that is the product of their embryo program. He said he and his mom work together to plan matings and flushes. The family also farms and raises hay, but he said the cattle side of the operation is his passion. Though his final year of high school and showing livestock is upon him, this time of year he can be found checking heifers and calving cows and watching newborn calves rise and nurse. A pasture of calves is pure potential, and he knows that’s where those million little things all begin.