Across the country, thousands of exhibitors, from 4-H students to ranchers, are preparing for the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado.These people are not preparing to simply attend the stock show, however. They are going to compete.

Scherer robyn
Freelance Writer
Robyn Scherer-Carlson is a freelance writer based in Colorado.

The NWSS is a premier place for producers of many livestock species to exhibit their animals to a judge and to the general public. The events that take place over the 16 days of the stock show range from cattle shows to youth showmanship, market classes and draft horse competitions.

“A lot of what is unique with National Western Stock Show is the heritage,” says Erin Dorsey, manager of livestock operations at National Western Stock Show.

“We have a lot of generational families who come and show. My family is on our fourth generation. Many families are going on third and fourth generations coming to show here.

The NWSS hosts one of the largest cattle shows in the country, where producers can take their animals and compete as individuals on the “hill,” which is where the stadium arena is. It is called this because it is quite literally up the hill from the yard area.


Deb Vorthmann, from Vorthmann Limousin, has shown at the NWSS with her family since the early 1990s. The Vorthmanns are from Treynor, Iowa, and make the trek to NWSS to exhibit their cattle each year.

“I think it’s what I consider the Super Bowl of cattle shows. You get to show the cattle off in front of a lot of different breeders, and you get different people from a different area. There are a lot of people who walk around there that you wouldn’t normally meet,” she explains.

She continues, “We meet potential buyers there. It’s always good to show off your cattle in front of other breeders. It keeps you in mind when they are thinking about buying. The more you show, the more you get out there and show other breeders what you do with your cattle.”

She also likes to attend NWSS because of the people she gets to see. “We also enjoy the good friends and the Limousin family that we have that we see each year,” Vorthmann says.

National Western Stock Show

Nearly every breed has a show at NWSS, and many also have annual banquets or award recognition events there as well. Vorthmann’s favorite memory from the NWSS was when she was recognized at the Limousin Herdsman of the Year, which happened in 2002. She was also the first woman to ever be recognized for the award.

“Winning that award meant a lot to me. Your peers within the breed, they vote on who to nominate, and then they vote between the nominees on who to choose. It meant I have that much respect from other breeders, and that means a lot,” she states.

NWSS also offers a unique show in the yards, where exhibitors can compete in pens of three or in a carload, which is a set of 10. The yard aspect of the NWSS is part of what makes that show so different from any other show in the country.

“We are unique compared to any other livestock show because we are the only one that has pen and carload. It is one of the most prestigious livestock shows in the country to win. I think we are so unique in that we have the open shows on the hill and the pen and carload shows in the yard,” states Dorsey.

People travel from all over the U.S., from Florida to California, to show. Many of the exhibitors who compete in the pen and carload shows only show at NWSS, as they come not only to compete but to market their cattle as well.

Almost every yard show has a sale during the NWSS, and many of the cattle that are exhibited are sold. These sales bring in buyers the exhibitors may not have met without the NWSS.

Youth can compete in the open shows and also in the junior market shows. “Our junior market sale is so good, and that attracts more and more people. There are very few national shows in the West that anyone can show at. NWSS is one of the best and is a very prestigious show to win,” explains Dorsey.

At NWSS, immediate family can help a youth exhibitor prepare his or her cattle. Therefore, a young student who wants to compete can show because there are others there who can help. This is a big advantage for young exhibitors who may not otherwise be able to compete because they are not big enough.

One of the other aspects to the junior show that exhibitors like is the drug testing protocol. “We have really tried to clean up our show. That brings exhibitors back, and they appreciate it. They feel like it’s a more level playing field,” Dorsey says.

The Junior Livestock Auction, along with the Citizen of the West dinner and the Coors Western Art Exhibit, raise money for the scholarship program, which is part of the core of NWSS.

Each year, NWSS awards 80 scholarships for students in Wyoming and Colorado who are pursuing careers in agriculture and rural medicine.

Throughout the NWSS, exhibitors can also attend a variety of events such as PRCA rodeos, equine performances, the PBR and a large trade show.

The livestock shows are a great way for producers to showcase their best animals, for other producers to buy foundation stock and for the general public to learn about the different livestock breeds.

The NWSS, held each January, is one of the largest stock shows in the West and brings in more than 600,000 visitors each year.  end mark

Robyn Scherer-Carlson is a freelance writer based in Colorado.

PHOTO 1: Jed Sidwell of Gill, Colorado, sells his second-place crossbred steer at the 2012 NWSS Junior Livestock Auction. 

PHOTO 2: The carload show is unique to the NWSS because it is the only place where this type of show occurs. Photos courtesy of Robyn Scherer-Carlson.