Augie Miller, 9, of Henderson, Colo., watches as the annual National Western Stock Show and Rodeo Parade makes its way down 17th Street in downtown Denver on Jan. 5. The show began on Jan. 7 and runs through Jan. 22.
Augie Miller, 9, of Henderson, Colo., watches as the annual National Western Stock Show and Rodeo Parade makes its way down 17th Street in downtown Denver on Jan. 5. The show began on Jan. 7 and runs through Jan. 22. Ed Andrieski/AP
The single largest cattle show in the United States, the National Western Stock Show, is now under way in Denver. Fans roar overhead, keeping the air cool and the odors at bay, as Jeanette Fuller spiffs up her Black Angus — with product.
"High-strength hairspray, basically, just trying to get the hair to accentuate the good things about her and kind of cover up the bad things about her," Fuller says.
Reece Aglin drove 700 miles from Circle, Mont., to show his purebred shorthorn.
Reece Aglin drove 700 miles from Circle, Mont., to show his purebred shorthorn. Kirk Siegler/KUNC
The barn is like a dressing room backstage at the Oscars, except it is the country's premier Angus show. Fuller, who raises certified Angus beef near Twin Falls, Idaho, styles the tail meticulously. She then buffs up its coat so it shines.
"We want them to look their best," she says.
Almost everyone in the audience on the show floor is a prominent cattle breeder or buyer.
"This event ... has been going over a hundred years," John McCurry of Burton, Kan., says as he herds his senior heifer calf out of the arena.
McCurry is modest and matter-of-fact, what you would expect of a cowboy. But beneath the brim of his tan hat, a subtle smile forms as he clutches a big blue ribbon. Winning here at the Super Bowl for the cattle industry is prestigious, and great for business, participants say.
"This is the toughest show in the world, in terms of quality Angus cattle," McCurry says.
Genetics: Breeding artificially means a farmer can control what he or she is getting and select for certain traits. The seller provides detailed information on the bull about its background and genetic history. Buying sperm from a male outside the herd can be a way to increase genetic variation.
Timing: Surprises aren't such a great thing in agriculture. By breeding artificially, a farmer can decide when calving season is, and arrange it around weather that's too hot or too cold.
Access: Bull semen can be shipped long distances, so artificial insemination lets farmers take advantage of prize bulls that live far away.
Cost, Safety, Hassle: Bulls are large, and expensive to feed and maintain. They can also be aggressive, and not having to keep one around might make farming a bit safer and easier. Sometimes both males and females are injured during the natural mating process, so artificial insemination also avoids that possibility.
The Downsides: Bulls instinctively detect when cows are in heat, thus mating with them at exactly the right time. It can be more difficult for farmers to figure this out accurately. Breeding with artificial insemination also decreases the genetic variability of a herd, and if the semen used does not provide enough benefits, that could do more harm than good for the herd's future.
— Natalie Jones
Sources:Joint FAO/IAEA Programme; CattleToday.com; eHow.com
There are also sheep and goats pleading for their dinner here in the small livestock barn, and hogs, chickens, horse shows, rodeos and vendor stalls.
There's a lot of leather. And you can buy longhorns — your very own longhorn for $224.95.
There's even bull semen for sale.
"We are a semen sales business from Great Falls, Mont.," salesman Chase Murray says.
It's actually a lucrative market, according to Murray. "You don't have to spend a whole bunch of money to get one of these good bulls," he says. "You can just breed, buy some semen, to get better replacement heifers."
The bull semen and cattle business in general is booming right now. So Reece Aglin didn't think twice about gassing up his truck and trailer to drive the 700 miles from his ranch in Circle, Mont.
Outside, in the sunny stockyards, he's tending to his prized purebred shorthorn. "He's probably around 1,800 pounds," Aglin says. "He's just a pretty outstanding show bull; he's got lots of power, lots of hip, good thick muscle — overall a pretty amazing bull."
Unlike the smaller cows inside, this shorthorn won't be competing. Aglin is just here to show him off and network through next Sunday, the end of the show.