Steamboat Springs They think they are being sneaky, but it's hard to get anything past a longtime Routt County rancher like Pete Wille.
He sees it almost every January when he travels to Denver to take part in the National Western Stock Show, and it always leaves him with a smile.
"It isn't worth much to us, but they think they really got something," Pete said of children who pocket the extra clumps of wool that fall to the floor after his sheep have been trimmed.
The small children who visit the Denver Coliseum as part of their school classes will reach down and pick up the loose tufts of wool when they think nobody is watching them.
"The kids are all strung together in groups of 12 or 15, so that they will not lose any of them," Pete said. "They've never been around livestock before and they ask some of the funniest questions. Well, they seem funny to us, but they just don't know."
Pete often takes a few minutes to talk to the groups while he prepares his ewes and rams for the show.
"It takes us about five or six hours just to get one sheep ready to show," said Pete's son Rod. "It's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun."
Pete has always viewed the stock show as an opportunity to share a little bit of what he knows with a group of people who will grow up far away from the rural world he loves.
Pete and his family have been attending the National Western Stock Show for the past 15 years. These days, he attends the shows with his wife, Rod and Rod's family.
This year, Rod's stepdaughter, Taylore Wille, will show the sheep in some of the junior divisions.
But while Pete is looking to expand the minds of young city dwellers, Rod says he takes a more competitive approach to attending the stock show. "I like to see our sheep do well," Rod said. "It's a nice reward after looking after them for the entire year."
Traditionally, the Wille sheep have always done well. The ranch has produced a number of grand and reserve champions over the years. Two years ago, the Wille ranch produced the champion flock.
Pete's other boys, Richard and Darwin, normally stay at home to care for the family ranch.
The National Western Stock Show opened today with several quarterhorse competitions. It will continue until Jan. 26, when it closes with the profile stock dog trials. The Willes will be in Denver Jan. 23-26.
In those few days, Pete hopes his animals will place well and he will pass on a little of the ranching knowledge he has spent a lifetime collecting.
"For me, the whole thing is an educational program," Pete said. "It's a chance to educate some of those city people about where their food, and in our case clothing, comes from."
The longtime Routt County rancher said he plans to spend several days at the show and he is already prepared to answer the predictable questions ranging from "Does that hurt the sheep?" to "What kind of fur is that?"
Wille promises not to laugh (although he might crack a smile and then chuckle a bit to himself) and said he will try to answer all the questions the young minds can come up with -- and hopefully set them straight on the whole fur thing.
He is also hoping that the six or so sheep he takes will do well in the shows; however, for Pete, winning is not the main reason he goes to the stock show.
"We try not to take it too seriously," he said. "It's like I told the kids at the (Routt County) fair: The blue ribbon is just one man's opinion. This sheep might not win today, but if you load it up and take it 50 miles down the road, it might just win the blue ribbon tomorrow."
Wille is just one of several Routt County residents who will be at the stock show this year. Other stock show veterans, including Barry Castagnasso (who raises Clydesdales) and Sandra McRoy and her father John (who expect to show six horses) will also be at the stock show in the next few weeks.