Altenburg's Super Baldy Ranch leads the way raising PAP-tested bulls suited for the country's high-altitude operations.
by Rachel Spencer, Wiggins, CO. Editor’s Note: This article was originally published online by The Fence Post.
Willie Altenburg started his Super Baldy Ranch near Wellington, Colorado, in the 1990s and has firmly established himself among those who value his Simmental and SimAngus™ cattle for their aptitude at altitude and Angus breeders hoping to add performance. In an operation that runs 250 Simmental mother cows and markets 150 bulls annually, Altenburg turned to embryo transfer technology early on and utilizes it to optimize the genetics at play. He sells both red and black cattle and said he doesn’t discriminate. He just likes the good ones. With three embryo herds in Colorado, Wyoming, and Kansas, Altenburg is able to utilize about 150 embryos each year. He got his start in utilizing embryos when he received a call from Australia. He sends 50 and 25 embryos to two different customers Down Under, retaining some flushes and some natural calves on females sold but maintained stateside.
Over the course of 15 years, that portion of the operation nearly pays for the Embryo Transfer program and allows him to expand cow herd numbers.
When it comes to selecting bulls, Altenburg chooses high EPD value, high phenotype
, good structured, big gutted bulls. “We run on the grazing association on the Wyoming border so our cattle aren’t run much differently than our commercial breeders so when I’m talking phenotype, I’m not picking them out of the show ring,” he said. “Our cows run on grass 11 months per year in single bull pastures.” The first time Colorado State University’s Dr. Tim Holt visited the ranch, he told Altenburg he ought to be pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) testing bulls. “I told him, ‘These Simmies will PAP’ and he said, ‘You’ve got to PAP them and tell them,” he said. “He was right. The Sim and SimAngus PAP really well; they PAP better than Angus.”
Altenburg said his Simmental bulls will PAP ten points better than Angus cattle, on average, and his SimAngus will PAP within two points of the purebred Simmentals. While the exact reasoning behind this escapes both Altenburg and Holt, he said the benefits can’t be denied.
“We’ve sold a lot more bulls into the high country and that’s really helped a lot of customers who have Angus-based herds,” he said. “That’s where our bulls go is the Angus-based herds. It doesn’t matter where they are whether it’s east into the plains or into Wyoming.”
About 30% of Altenburg’s bulls go to Wyoming and another 30% into the high country, which he attributes to the PAP testing. PAP testing done right is a priority for him. With his chute at 5,419 feet, he said many of his customers retest bulls after six weeks at altitude to ensure the test result can be replicated at higher altitude.
“A 36 here will do a 38 at Walden and a 36 here will do a 39 at Toponas,” he said. “It’s very repeatable is what Tim Holt would say. I feel really good about what we do here. There’s something about the Simmental.”
Though selling bulls is a tough business with formidable competition, Altenburg said competing with Angus breeders is not his goal in the least. He said he tells people there are several Angus breeders in the region who raise exceptional Angus cattle and to purchase Angus genetics from one of them.
“You need to get your good Angus genetics from good Angus breeders but when you’re ready to crossbreed, here’s a good breed to cross with,” he said. “If you want a little Sim genetics, use SimAngus, and if you want some more power, some more muscle, some more performance, and want to raise half breeds, here’s Simmentals. I raise both.”
Altenburg is frank and said he’s not everything to everyone. However, to operations like Randy Rusk’s near Westcliffe, Colorado, Altenburg’s genetics have allowed him to thrive at 9,000 feet. Prior to widely used PAP testing, Rusk said he could lose 40 individuals per 1,000 head.
“You can’t afford to have problems,” he said. “We run a lot of outside cattle also and in the old days, we couldn’t find much for low-PAP cattle for summer pasture cattle. We had to develop a whole new program for how we handle brisket cattle.”
Phtoto: Sharon and Willie Altenburg live between Wellington, Colorado, and the Wyoming line on the operation they began from scratch.
High altitude disease, or brisket, he said, is an accumulative disease that happens over a period of time and worsens the longer cattle are kept at high altitude. With Altenburg’s Simmental genetics, he and his son calve 700 cows and he said they may have one symptomatic individual.
“We’ve done a good job with the Simmentals,” he said. “We’ve made them real workable for the American cattleman from lower elevations to my elevation with the help of Willie (Altenburg) and Shane (Temple) trying to find low-PAP bulls that will work at elevation. They’ve done a good job. The cattle work well for us.”
To that end, Altenburg continues to serve his bull customers through his annual feeder calf sale each October. The sale allows producers who have used his bulls to market their calves as a part of larger, similar groups. It has grown to about 500 head and allows him to see his genetics in action. One customer, he said, brought in calves right off Angus cows weighing 700 pounds, showcasing his bulls’ ability to add muscle and performance.
Pulmonary Arterial Pressure
For over 100 years, pulmonary hypertension (PH), commonly referred to as brisket disease, has been observed in cow-calf and stocker operations where cattle are being grazed at high elevation.
– PH is the result of elevated pulmonary arterial pressure caused from a lack of oxygen and generally affects cattle raised at 5,000 feet or higher. It is not limited to one sex or breed of cattle, and can be tested through a pulmonary arterial pressures (PAP) score.
– Pulmonary arterial pressure scores are a useful metric for high-altitude cattle breeders to monitor and prevent high altitude sickness. Like all quantitative traits
, the best way to make selection decisions is through the use of an EPD.
– Research from Colorado State University shows PAP increases in all cattle when they are being finished in feedlots, possibly making them more susceptible to PH.
– Over the last decade, death loss has doubled in feedlot cattle, and recent evidence suggests the sudden death loss in feedlots could be linked to PH.
The ASA is currently working with Colorado State University (CSU) on the development of a PAP EPD and exploring the genetic component of PAP in Simmental and commercial cattle.
In order to provide researchers at CSU a useful data set, we are requesting high altitude Simmental and commercial cattle breeders assist ASA in the gathering of PAP scores and associated data. A meaningful data set is comprised of sire-identified animals with these data points:
- PAP score
- Test date
- Test elevation
- Technician performing the test
Commercial cattlemen can also participate in this project by submitting additional contemporary information; however, it is still vital to have known sire information.
- Sire registration number
- Sex of animal
- Date of birth
- Weaning date
- Breed composition