BREEDING and raising cattle in the high-elevation Rocky Mountains of Colorado in the United States comes with a unique set of challenges that Australian beef producers, who operate on the lowest continent in the world, can only imagine. For Jeff Meyers and Erika Murphy, who run Coyote Creek Ranch, near Hayden in the north west corner of Colorado, the challenges are met with a strong focus on animal welfare and sustainability. Australia's average elevation is 300 metres. Mount Kosciuszko is 2228m, the peak of Victoria's high country is Mount Bogong at 1986m and the New England Angus breeding hub of Guyra in NSW is 1330m. The highest point at Coyote Creek Ranch is 2600m. The ranch was first homesteaded in the 1890s and its current owners are the fifth family to operate it. Coyote Creek Ranch raises registered Angus, selling bulls and heifers at 18 months of age to other mountain ranchers, both seedstock and commercial, who are typically above 1500m. CCR are specialists in breeding animals that can perform at altitude and are doing that job at such a level they were named the 2021 Seedstock Producer of the Year awarded by Colorado Cattlemen's Association. ALSO READ: The winters are long at CCR, typically lasting from November to April. The hay growing season averages between 60 and 70 days in the summer and there is just one cutting of hay. "The benefits of ranching where we are include the access to high quality hay, decent water rights, and leveraging non-arable land to raise a food product," Ms Murphy said. "But it is a harsh environment and we are very dependent on rain in summer and snow in winter. It's a labour of love." In 2016, the ranch began a transition to summer calving and is now selling long-yearling bulls and heifers. The extra age on these cattle helps to ensure that they are mature, well-tested for pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) and fertility, and ready to go to work in both spring and fall-calving herds. PAP testing, Ms Murphy explained, is an indicator of resistance to blood flow through the lungs, and when measured at high altitude, is a reliable predictor of susceptibility of an animal to brisket disease, a cardiac pulmonary condition that can occur at elevation. "Dr Tim Holt from Colorado State University comes to the ranch and tests all of our cattle including the yearling heifers and bulls," she said. "The process involves entering the jugular vein in the neck with a needle and threading a catheter into the right ventricle of the heart to measure the pressure. "At our elevation, scores below 45 will be kept as breeding animals, scores above are culled. "The score varies based on the age of the animal - they need to be at least a year old for a more reliable score - and at what elevation it is measured. "A 37 PAP score done at 5000 feet is not the same as a 37 at 7100 feet, for example." Ms Murphy said the ability to prosper at elevation was a heritable trait. CCR sells Angus seedstock to mountain ranches not only in Colorado but Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah. CCR's other animal welfare practices include low stress cattle handling, using horses and dogs versus machines to gather, and calm and non-threatening body movements to load them into chutes and trailers. "We are also judicious about vaccinations, use of antibiotics and other medicines to ensure healthy cattle," Ms Murphy said. "We check our herd often for signs of sickness, and that their food, water and mineral supply are ample, especially during cold weather. "We also employ low stress weaning methods using plastic nose tabs on the calves and feeding a weaning supplement to transition from milk. "Overall, it's about making sure the cattle are thriving in our environment, which results in a much more productive animal." Beef cattle is Colorado's number one agricultural commodity. The state has the entire beef supply chain covered, from producers to feeders, packers, retailers and consumers. It is home to around 2.65 million cattle and is ranked fourth highest in the nation for cattle on feed numbers, which is typically around a million - or the same number as the entire number on on feed in Australia. It's also home to the headquarters for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the powerful advocacy body for US producers, as well as home to the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef's offices. Colorado has a land mass of 26.8m hectares (or 66.3m acres) and half is dedicated to agriculture. Within that, there are 15000 cattle ranches - the largest around 73,000ha but the typical size is 330ha. Eighty per cent are family owned. The state has varying geography, from the plains of the eastern parts to the high mountain ranges and the more arid areas on the western slope. The soils in the mountains and eastern plains are some of the most fertile in the country and ranchers can grow excellent hay, corn, oats and other animal feed products, Ms Murphy reported. "One of things we are quite famous for is our manic weather," she said. "Within a 24 hour period it can change radically - we had a fall day at over 27 degrees Celsius and the next morning we woke up to four inches of snow. "Cattle and humans have to take that in their stride."