by: Ted G. Dyer
UGA Extension Animal Scientist

Selecting the right bull for your cow herd could be considered as one of the most important decisions you make in staying profitable. Don't make a quick unprepared decision on purchasing a bull. You should do your homework reviewing and studying records prior to making a bull purchase. You should first consider the bull's performance and background, that's why it is important to select a performance tested bull. Performance tested bulls have proven records to back up their quality and performance. These performance and quality traits will then be passed on to his calves that will hopefully make your cattle operation more profitable.

Remembering the bull contributes one-half of the genetic makeup of your calf crop and has the potential to sire from 25 to 50 calves per year. Therefore, he is the most important individual in your herd. Bull procurement decisions can impact both your future calf crops and herd genetics for many years.

Below are some items to consider when you are making your bull purchase:

Review the Bull's Performance Information: This includes: birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, average daily gain, weight per day of age, weight ratios, size of contemporary group, frame size, scrotal circumference, ultrasound scan data, and feed efficiency. Individual performance of potential herd sires is measured by feeding a large number of similar age bulls at the same location. This allows meaningful comparisons to be made between individual bulls. At the end of the testing period, typically two or more ratios are combined which results in a composite index for that testing location. Remember to compare ratios and indexes only between bulls from a specific test.

Visually Appraise the Bull's present Phenotype: This includes the visually properties of the animal. This would include: structural soundness and confirmation, fleshing ability, muscling, scrotal size and placement, breed characteristics, balance/style, and masculinity. You should also evaluate the bull's disposition or temperament, research has proven that unruly cattle will not perform as well as calm cattle. Selecting calm bulls with the correct phenotype will enable you to enhance the economical traits.

Know the Bull's Pedigree: Knowing this information will allow you to better predict a consistent calf crop. If you are unfamiliar with a particular breed's pedigree check with a reputable breeder, breed field representative, or breed association for more information. Knowing this information can pay dividends especially for a commercial cow-calf producer.

Know the Bull's Health Record: It is important to have these records, so you can continue to give the needed annual vaccinations plus control internal and external parasites. Bulls that are 12 months are older should have a breeding soundness evaluation (BSE) preformed. A BSE is used to evaluate a bull's breeding potential. It consists of a physical examination of the reproductive organs plus an evaluation of semen quality.

Review and Study the Bull's Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs): This information should be available from the breeder, registration certificate, or the sale catalog. It will give an indication on how the bull's calves are expected to perform for certain traits relative to calves from other bulls within the same breed. Even thought the accuracy level is low on young bulls, EPD's provide offspring performance information that can't be obtained elsewhere.

Remember to do your homework and ask the right questions before you purchase a herd bull. It is very important that you study, review, and compare the information among the bulls you are selecting. This should help you select the right bull for your herd.

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