Winter Cattle Journal 2020: Bootheel 7 Ranch
The Wasserburger family emigrated from Germany in the 1800s; they lived in Wisconsin for a while before coming to the German-Catholic community near Ardmore, South Dakota, near the state line north of Harrison and Crawford, Nebraska. The family was large, with twelve children, nine girls and three boys including three sets of twins. The oldest son, Henry Lewis, left home and went to work for an Uncle Christ Ruffing on Old Woman Creek, thirty miles north of Lusk Wyoming.
Henry worked for his uncle until his 21st birthday in 1916 when he was finally old enough to file his own homestead claim. He worked hard and was able to buy up the surrounding claims when his neighbors had enough and called it quits. He raised cattle and sheep; he would trail his stock to Ardmore, South Dakota where they were loaded on the train for Fort Robinson. In 1928 he married a school teacher, Ann. The couple was blessed with two boys and a girl. Their son Henry II came back in 1950 and with his wife Lorraine raised five children: Jerry, Jolene, J.D, Tom and Jeff.
Henry Lewis’ grandson J.D remembers his grandfather. “He told me, ‘Don’t worry about going broke, I’ve been broke three times.’”
The family was going into default on their loan in the 1930s when their bank in Harrison, Nebraska went broke. But thanks to the Federal Government’s emergency acts under President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help farmers, Henry was able to obtain a new loan that saved the ranch.
“Grandpa lived in a soddy and I can’t imagine, I wonder how they survived the heat and the cold and no running water. He built a house by the time he married Grandma. Every generation has it easier than the last. Grandpa lost 1,000 head of sheep in a flood but he and my dad always believed that there was going to be another day. He only had like a third or fourth grade education but he was really good with numbers, he did everything long hand all on a piece of paper with a pencil. I wish I had saved some of those envelopes he wrote on,” J.D said. “Years ago a guy who worked for us was going to dig a well by hand. My dad and grandpa went up to see how it was going. His wife was running the windlass bringing up dirt and the hired man was in the hole. He came up for a drink of water and while he was on top the well caved in. Dad says he can still remember the look on grandpa’s face, it would have killed the man.”
“A guy west of us raised watermelons and cantaloupes, in the fall my grandpa would get some. He said it would make his mouth water just thinking about it. My dad was a senior in high school in 1949 and stayed in town like all the country kids did. He caught a ride home on a snow blower and he was stuck there a long while. But we never lost any stock. In 1967 we put up 13,000 of those little round bales. They were all picked up by hand loaded on the truck, unloaded and fed by hand,” J.D said.
The Wasserburgers ran Hereford cattle for years but are now raising Black Angus. They also raised sheep until about 15 years ago when the coyote population grew too bad. J.D came back to the family ranch in 1978 and in 1979 Henry II and Lorraine partnered with him to form Bootheel 7 Livestock, named for Henry Lewis’ brand. J.D married Laurie, a school teacher from Denver in 1980. They have three sons, with two ranching beside them and raising the next generation of Wasserburgers. Henry II is 88. Lorraine passed away in 1999 and Henry II married Bonnie Baures and the couple resides in Casper, Wyoming.
Laurie Wasserburger taught school for 30 years before retiring and she does all the bookwork for the ranch. She and J.D also started an oil field business that their son Eric now is in charge of, his girlfriend Hannah Swanbon is the local extension agent. J.D’s oldest son Jason is an oil and gas attorney in Cheyenne and is raising two sons with his wife Hilary. The youngest son Andrew runs the ranch, his wife Anne is the County Attorney in Lusk and they have a son Henry and daughter Grace.
The brothers help each other when needed and J.D is active in both businesses. Eric and Andrew also enjoy competing in ranch rodeos and having a good time. They partner with two brothers from Fort Laramie and have made the WRCH Finals, Western States Finals, NILE Finals and the Wyoming Finals.
A few years ago Andrew and Anne partnered with her brother Jake Kugler and his wife Kelly to form Bootheel 7 Ranch, a direct marketing beef company based in Colorado. They offer pasture to plate Black Angus Beef. The family utilizes carcass ultrasound to test how the animals will grade. “We don’t feed anything that won’t grade prime or choice,” Andrew said. “We feed our open heifers, the first year we couldn’t feed them fast enough, we finished 50 or 60 that year and this year we will feed 100. It’s been a fun little deal, and we are able to tell people where the meat comes from and help people understand. Consumers have a lot of misconceptions.”
Consumers are able to buy the whole animal or monthly subscription boxes delivered to drop points along the Colorado Front Range and shipping across the nation. The cattle never leave the ranch until they are ready for processing; they are fed an all-natural ration, never receive hormones and are given antibiotics only when sick and then only if it’s more than 365 days before butchering.
The Wasserburgers have benefited from being able to follow their cattle all the way from birth to the rail and seeing what they can do to improve and also knowing what to look for when buying bulls. The family has used genetics from Rishel Angus for years, but are now buying from another bull producer who used those lines. In 2017 Andrew’s cousin Trey and Dayna Wasserburger purchased Rishel Angus and as TD Angus are continuing to raise the quality cattle that Bill Rishel developed. Bootheel 7 now buy their new bulls from TD Angus are very happy with the quality of calves and the carcasses quality. Andrew also rides a few ranch geldings for his cousin, and those horses are sold on the bull sale every year.
This year Bootheel 7 Livestock sorted through 700 heifers, they did the first sort on paper according to traits, then honed down again the traditional way. “Ones we just didn’t like or want to breed. We ultrasounded them and sent a pen of heifers to participate in the first annual TD Angus Feed Test in North Platte, Nebraska. The feed test is a way for ranchers with calves out of TD Angus bulls to put them in the feedyard and follow their progress all the way to the rail.
The Wasserburgers are raising the fifth generation of Wyoming ranchers and are committed to producing the highest quality beef possible.