History and tradition make The Yards are an integral part of the National Western Stock Show experience, despite cold weather | TheFencePost.com

History and tradition make The Yards are an integral part of the National Western Stock Show experience, despite cold weather

In 110 years, National Western has racked up a lot of history, and most of it in the Stockyards, where it all started.

Tony Bruguiere | | The best way for this young Hereford bull to ward off the chill of Stock Show Weather is to find a warm sunny spot and hunker down in the fresh straw bedding.

That was back when Denver was second only to Chicago as a livestock distribution center. To put that into perspective, at the first Stock Show in 1906, there were 45 states in the Union, Theodore Roosevelt was president, Colorado was getting ready to celebrate its 30th birthday, there were still people alive that could remember the Civil War and top sirloin was ten cents a pound.

Back then, the sale of cattle in The Yards was the reason for the stock show. There was a horse show and some limited entertainment, but they were just an aside to selling cattle. A lot has changed since 1906, but there is still a tremendous amount of cattle business that happens in The Yards.

Tony Bruguiere | | Three Herefords from Greives Herefords in Illinois wait for a team of professional groomers to primp and pamper them in preparation for a later pen show.

The Yards at NWSS are unique. They are the last remaining outside pens and corrals for open market buying, selling, displaying and marketing of livestock in the U.S. It is a history and a way of doing business that ranchers and exhibitors want to preserve.

Douthit Herefords has been showing at the National Western Stock Show for 69 years. Four generations have shown their prize Herefords in The Yards.

Tony Bruguiere | | The crowd parts for the steady stream of animals being led through The Yards. Being up close to these massive Hereford bulls is a great opportunity for city kids to see where that McDonalds burger really comes from.

"What brings people to Denver and why this is the largest national show, is these yards and its historic aspect," said Megan Douthit-Downey, the latest Douthit to show in The Yards. "We take cattle to other shows and none are as prestigious as Denver. This one attracts real cattlemen, not the show people. That's what makes them unique and why we have come here this long. The Yards down here are the grassroots of the ag industry."

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Everything that happens in The Yards, except the sales, happens outdoors, and you cannot talk about outside in Colorado during the month of January without someone bringing up "Stock Show Weather."

Tony Bruguiere | | There is a lot of entertainment at the NWSS, but out in The Yards it is all business. Buyers and sellers fill the large sales arena. From Herefords to Yaks, there is always a packed sales arena of buyers.

When people talk about the infamous Stock Show Weather, they are referring to miserable, frigid, snowy weather that arrives just at the start of Stock Show and continues through its two week run. Does this actually happen?

Well, not really. It depends on who you are talking to.

Tony Bruguiere | | There is the constant whine of generators, fans, and blow dryers in The Yards as the cattle are groomed to look their best for sales and shows. This rancher is lathering up his Limousin with a mixture of soap and conditioner.

The Stock Show happens in Denver, Colo., in January. Talk to a rancher from California and he will wonder how people can live in this artic weather, while a rancher from Canada might compare the weather to a balmy spring day back home.

It can definitely get cold in Denver. Since 1872, there have been fourteen dates in January with a recorded morning low temperature of at least 20 degrees below zero. But temperatures like that are the exception, not the norm. The average daytime January temperature during the years from 1981 to 2010 is 30.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Weather records do not indicate that there is a huge amount of snow in Denver during January, either. The average January snowfall during the same period is only seven inches.

Tony Bruguiere | | The Denver Union Stockyards Exchange building and its classic Ionic columns was built in 1916 during the heyday of the cattle business in Denver.

This year, there was snow and frigid temperatures in the days before the show opened, which meant that the first task ranchers had was shoveling snow out of the pens. On opening day, though, the sun was out, the temperature was in the mid 30s and everybody — but those ranchers from California — thought it was very pleasant.

The Yards are a window into the process of getting that prime steak to the supermarket. If you didn't get to experience them this year, there is always next year and the 111th National Western Stock Show. ❖

Tony Bruguiere | | This Red Angus waits for its turn in the sales arena. While the other end may be cuter, this is the money end that the buyers come to see. This animal shows off the latest trend in grooming – the end of the tail is back combed, fluffed into this shape, and heavily hair sprayed.