John Raftopoulos’s Angus bull program recognized as best in the state
April 14, 2012
“All we are trying to do is produce cattle that work in our environment, which is my passion. If you take care of business, do what you think is right, use common sense and work hard, things like this happen.”
— John Raftopoulos, of Raftopoulos Ranches in Moffat County
The Raftopoulos name has been synonymous with Moffat County ranching for almost a century.
The family is best known for its connection to the sheep industry.
But on March 31, John Raftopoulos, 60, of Raftopoulos Ranches, was recognized as the 2011 Promoter of the Year by the Colorado Angus Association for his ability to raise some of the best performing, high-altitude Angus cattle in Colorado.
Raftopoulos Ranches expanded into the commercial and registered Angus seed stock business 10 years ago.
"It was a surprise and honor that they selected us for the award," Raftopoulos said. "I never thought 10 years ago that we would be getting an award.
"All we are trying to do is produce cattle that work in our environment, which is my passion. If you take care of business, do what you think is right, use common sense and work hard, things like this happen."
The award was presented during Raftopoulos Ranches' — aka Diamond Peak Cattle Company — annual bull sale in Loma, where the outfit sold 207 bulls at an average price of $4,068 a head.
CAA President Jeff Meyers said his organization's board selects a Promoter of the Year annually based on nominations from members.
Although the award is presented in recognition of raising awareness of the quality of the Angus breed through marketing and salesmanship, Meyers said the award also recognizes excellence through raising the quality standard of cattle in Colorado.
"It is hard to think of someone more deserving of this award than Raftopoulos Ranches," said Bill McKee, CAA board member and co-presenter. "Through hard work and good decisions, John and the whole Raftopoulos outfit have been a major force in moving Angus cattle forward in Colorado."
Raftopoulos contends raising high-quality cattle is a sophisticated and scientific process.
"The bull program evolved from simply trying to build a better cow herd," Raftopoulos said. "When we started artificially inseminating our cows, we liked what we saw so much we decided to start the commercial bull program."
The program, Raftopoulos said, started with the purchase of 500 commercial Angus heifers from N Bar Ranch in Montana and 200 registered heifers from South Dakota. The young cows were then artificially inseminated to the proven sire well known as New Design 878.
Raftopoulos acquired New Design's DNA from a catalogue that rates bulls on fertility and the performance of its offspring.
The highest accuracy score a bull can receive is 1.
"If you have a bull with an accuracy number of .9 or .95, that bull has been proven," Raftopoulos said. "If you get one with .5, it's young and still in the process of being proven. We only use bulls with an accuracy rating of at least .85."
Raftopoulos began an aggressive AI program with New Design's genetic composition. The number of cows Raftopoulos breeds has grown from 700 in the first year to more than 2,600 today.
The objective of the breeder program is to produce bulls that will sire a uniform and consistent progeny.
In order to achieve that goal, cows are artificially inseminated with proven sires. The resulting bulls and heifers are half brothers and sisters.
When the first generation of cows reach their second year of production, they are bred with the genetic composition of another proven sire.
The second generation of offspring are three-quarter brothers and sisters.
Each time you repeat the process, the genetic code of the offspring becomes an increasingly closer match, Raftopoulos said.
After five generations, the Angus cattle bred at Raftopoulos Ranches are 31/32 brothers and sisters.
"Which means you have a large group of cattle that are all made up of nearly the same genetic composition," Raftopoulos said. "So when someone buys our bulls and puts them on his cows, he knows he is going to get a consistent and uniform calf crop."
In addition to striving for a herd as genetically consistent as nature allows, Raftopoulos said another significant challenge in raising quality Angus bulls in Colorado is the altitude.
Although the largest breed in the U.S. and celebrated for its meat, moderate size and adaptability, the history of Angus cattle traces back hundreds of years to England, where cattle were raised at low elevation.
"Angus is a British breed, so when you bring them to altitude, some develop right heart failure," Raftopoulos said. "The arteries in the lungs constrict, which forces the heart to work faster and harder, and enlarge over time.
"An enlarged heart doesn't pump blood efficiently and the bull eventually dies."
To ensure his bulls perform at altitude, Raftopoulos conducts a Pulmonary Arterial Pressure examination during the selection and sorting process.
PAP screens include passing a tiny catheter down the jugular, through the right side of the heart, and into the pulmonary arteries. A meter then records a pressure reading.
A reading of 40 or lower means the bull will likely perform well above 8,000 feet of elevation. Bulls with a reading of 55 or higher are set for slaughter.
Producing quality bulls and cows requires hard work, a lot of land and a sizable capital investment, but it's a way of life and Raftopoulos couldn't imagine doing anything else for a living.
And, it's his attention to detail and common sense approach to raising Angus bulls that has earned Raftopoulos Ranches its reputation of producing some of the best performing bulls in the state.
"The thing about the bull business is if the cattle don't perform the people won't be back to buy again," Raftopoulos said. "That's why you have to provide good genetics, cattle that fit this environment and work at this altitude because if you don't have repeat buyers, I guarantee you won't be able to find new buyers every year.
"People know quality and if you're providing quality and good service, people will find you. That's true for any business and we stress that.
"We want people to be satisfied. If they're not satisfied, we make them satisfied."
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