These students are going to figure out the per-cow cost of the National Western — in water, electricity and poop

Denver has no idea how much energy and water the National Western Center uses or how much waste it produces.

A nose-ringed bull at the National Western Complex. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Cows are hosed down at the National Western Complex. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) national western stock show; nwss; national western center; development; environment; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;
Cows are hosed down at the National Western Complex. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Take a walk behind the scenes at the National Western Stock Show, and you’ll see tons of pretty heifers getting primped for judging and auction. That’s hundreds of cow showers, buzzers running for quick cow haircuts and endless rows of spinning fans keeping cow celebrities cool as they await their big moments.

How much water and how much energy does this all use? And how much waste — think cow pies — comes out of this Super Bowl of livestock shows?

Despite the fact that the current National Western Center has been open for 30 years, Denver has no idea how much energy and water the facility uses or how much waste it produces. That’s why students studying construction management at the Denver and Boulder campuses of the University of Colorado, as well as students from Metro State University and Colorado State University, have begun measuring what it takes to run this week.

The stock show provides an opportunity to take measurements at the most hectic time of the year, will help city planners attempt to meet some pretty ambitious sustainability goals as they begin to redevelop the complex.

Talon Alexander (left) and Shane Sturgeon groom Skittles the cow behind the scenes at the National Western Stock Show. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) national western stock show; nwss; national western center; development; environment; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;
Talon Alexander (left) and Shane Sturgeon groom Skittles the cow behind the scenes at the National Western Stock Show. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

“There really isn’t a whole lot of data right now on what the energy usage is for events like this,” said Sam Hutchison, leader of the team that is working to calculate these numbers per cow. “We just really want to know what we’re working with.”

Hutchison and his colleagues attached water meters to spigots in cow washing areas and crunched numbers on electricity usage throughout the day.

Cows are hosed down at the National Western Complex. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) national western stock show; nwss; national western center; development; environment; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;
A special water meter connected to a spigot where cows are being hosed down. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

While it will certainly be entertaining to know how much composted cow poop comes out of the stock show each year, the research plays into a considerably higher-brow goal to make the National Western Center a “net zero campus.”

Sam Hutchison poses for a portriat at the Cows are hosed down at the National Western Complex. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) national western stock show; nwss; national western center; development; environment; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;
Sam Hutchison poses for a portrait with cows. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Eric Shafran, a project manager with the city office that oversees the complex, says that only Elitch Gardens compares to the kind of resource intake that the National Western Center requires to operate. But there’s really nothing like it, he said.

“The uses are not concentrated in a calendar sense,” Shafran said, meaning that the facility isn’t always in use. 

Cows are washed behind the scenes at the National Western Stock Show. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) national western stock show; nwss; national western center; development; environment; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;
Cows are washed and primped before taking to the auction floor. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

“Peak demand during that sporadic use is very high,” he said, “but the average use is very low.”

While the environmental cost of the stock show is still unknown, the work of the student investigators will soon reveal what the National Western Center burns through during its most intensive event of the year.

Kevin Beaty

Author: Kevin Beaty

Kevin Beaty is a media producer with experience in a variety of settings spanning Hollywood film sets to international backpack journalism expeditions. He is on a never-ending quest to meld artful imagery, functional design and intimate storytelling. His biggest struggle in any given moment is whether to shoot stills or video. Find him on Twitter and Instagram at @kevinjbeaty.