Altenburg Super Baldy Ranch, LLC
Under Range Conditions
By Dan Rieder, Editor of the Register, November 2011
“We have been raising Simmentals for more than 35 years with the commercial man in mind, and we treat them just like commercial cattle,” says William “Willie” Altenburg, who with his wife, Sharon, is the owner/operator of Altenburg Super Baldy Ranch (ASR), located just north of Fort Collins, Colorado.
The Altenburgs’ cowherd of 200 head, comprised of Simmental and Angus genetics, both black and red, spends several months spanning summer and fall on large, native grass pastures of the Soapstone Grazing Association that straddles the Colorado-Wyoming state line. Cattle are allocated on the rough, rather sparse pasture at a stocking rate of 25 acres per cow/calf pair.
“With the help of good friends and neighbors, we trail the cows south, back home in November, after we wean, where they graze hay stubble and corn stalks for a couple of months. Right after the National Western Stock Show, we bring the pregnant cows and heifers closer to home to begin calving on February 1. Our cows calve outside and are brought into the barn only when we’re trying to save the calves’ ears during times of severe cold,” Altenburg explained.
“After all, if that’s the way our bull customers operate, shouldn’t we produce cattle that add value to the same production system that they use? That’s our approach,” he says with obvious conviction.
He was drawn to Simmental back in the early 1970s while working in the AI industry and seeing first hand what the breed and the American Simmental Association brought to the beef industry: 1) superior maternal attributes; 2) ASA’s stance on performance; and 3) the Association’s open A.I. rule, which allowed him to enter the breed with minimal investment.
They have capitalized on the term Super Baldy, which they coined several years ago to give instant recognition to their genetics. “Years ago, we became aware of the superior breed complimentarity that Simmental and Angus composites have exhibited. We incorporated it into our ranch name and utilize it in any promotional work that we do. We’ve found that when folks hear Super Baldy, they tend to associate it with us,” he commented.
ASR genetics are marketed primarily through a pair of annual sales. The Wild, Wild West sale is held each January during the National Western Stock Show in conjunction with four other members of the ‘Bred to be Cows’ group. “The emphasis of that sale is on replacement females that are cow prospects,” he says. “We open it up to a few other Colorado breeders who may want to consign as well.”
After undergoing a 100-day gain test, 90 to 100 bulls are offered on the third Saturday of March (March 21 next spring), in partnership with fellow Colorado breeders: Mick Mieklejohn, and Andy Azcarraga, both of Colbran; and Drs. Jack Whittier and Dennis Lamm, both of Wellington. “We invite a few cooperator herds that share our philosophy and mating recommendations,” he added. “Each year, about 50% of our cattle go to repeat buyers, mostly from Colorado, western Nebraska and southern Wyoming.”
Altenburg grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, as one of six children. He earned a degree in Animal Science from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, working weekends and summers in the bull barns at nearby American Breeders Service (ABS), part-time employment that led to a lengthy tenure with ABS. A few years ago, he made the transition to Genex CRI, where he presently serves as Associate Vice President of Beef Marketing.
“I try to keep my position at Genex and my cattle operation separate. In my travels for Genex, I do have the opportunity to see Genex sires and their progeny so I know how to use many of those sires in our AI program,” he says. “I rely heavily on our ranch manager, Bruce German, to handle the day-to-day decisions and responsibilities.”
Sharon grew up in western Kansas and Colorado. “Although she does not come from a cattle background, she is a quick learner and has become very proficient,” he said. “She is the primary bookkeeper for the ranch operation and owns ASR Western Jewels, a jewelry business.”
Wayne Kruse, Centennial Livestock Auction, selling a set of Altenburg Super Baldy Ranch sired calves during special feeder calf sale.
Click here to view our feeder calf sale report
Registered cattle are managed to simulate the same conditions as their commercial cousins on a Northern Colorado operation
Willie Altenburg and Russ Princ, manager
Moving cows, rotating pastures in some tough country
A brand new one
Altenburg’s three grown children reside within a few hours driving time. Jennifer and Adam Noble reside in Grand Junction, have given him two granddaughters and Jennifer works as Communications Director for the Red Angus Association of America. Ryan and his wife, Rikki, live in Casper, Wyoming, where Ryan maintains his own Agricultural Engineering firm; and C.J. manages a feed store across the Continental Divide in Grand Junction.
All three went through the AJSA program. “Like many other junior members who do not necessarily stay in the production phase of the Simmental breed, they have carried their AJSA experience and knowledge into some other sector of Agricultural business,” he reported.
One of our Altenburg’s goals is ‘taking technology and information and making it practical.’ “We believe in using all the genetic tools available to us, but also feel it is important that we help interpret that information for our commercial customers,” he elaborated. “With the use of such powerful tools as artificial insemination and embryo transfer, we can produce the best genetics en masse, even providing multiple full brothers to larger commercial breeders who are looking for greater uniformity. We advise them that if they can’t A.I., then they should use A.I.-sired bulls.”
He is a strong advocate for EPDs, but believes that they need to be tempered by ‘cowboy common sense.’ As an example, he breeds Simmentals for below-average milk production on the assumption that it pays off under western range conditions.
“Balancing EPDs and physical structure is a real art. Savvy bull buyers won’t buy an unsound or visually unattractive bull just because he happens to have great EPDs,” he said. “Furthermore, cattle should be evaluated in an environment that closely matches their home conditions. Cattle that are pampered with added condition, simply don’t do as well when they’re asked to perform on open range.”
Altenburg places heavy emphasis on a wide array of other traits, including sound udders, calm dispositions, pigmentation about the eyes and udders, and especially, fertility. “She better be bred up early or she goes down the road,” he states.
He’s a fervent proponent of wise crossbreeding. “Cattle need to be bred to compliment a crossbreeding program. For example, I select Simmental to add ribeye and carcass yield and Angus, both red and black, to add carcass quality and marbling – and don’t chase either to extremes. Both breeds better make a good crossbred cow. An excellent way to incorporate desired crossbreeding traits into a herd is through the use of composite SimAngus bulls. Satisfied customers provide the incentive for us to keep producing them.”
Leading the Way
Early in his career, Altenburg recognized the significance of getting involved in beef industry organizations, earning recognition and respect as an industry advocate.
In addition to his work with Genex and his cattle operation, he has served as president of the Beef Improvement Federation, was a member of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Board of Directors, and served six years on the Board of Trustees of the American Simmental Association as well as involvement in local and state beef industry groups.
In 2010, he was awarded the prestigious Industry Partner award by nearby Colorado State University, “in recognition of contributions to the beef business.”
He continues to believe in ASA’s progressive programs. “We’veentered several of our sires in the ASA Carcass Merit Program,” he summarized. “We also believe very strongly in Total Herd Enrollment. The cow is extremely important to us and our customers.”