DO HOMEWORK BEFORE BUYING NEXT HERD BULL

by: Lisa A. Kriese-Anderson
Extension Animal Scientist and Associate Professor Auburn University

Fall is just around the corner. Many cattle operations are currently calving or within 30 days of the start of calving season.

Now is the time to assess your bull needs for the upcoming breeding season. Consider bull purchases as an investment into the herd rather than an expense. Bulls have a greater and longer lasting genetic impact in each herd compared to females. Bulls produce multiple calves per year. Most cows produce just one calf per year. The genetic impact of each bull used in the herd can be seen for 25 years if replacement heifers are retained.

Assess Herd Needs

To fully evaluate what your bull needs may be, identify the following:

Identify herd goals by writing down the primary and secondary goals of your cattle operation.

Identify herd strengths and weaknesses by writing down one to two strengths and one to two weaknesses. Putting information together from questions 1 and 2 may point you toward specific breeds and traits to emphasize.

Identify traits that impact your herd profitability. Select no more than five traits to emphasize during the bull selection process.

Which selection tools to use. A commercial cowherd should be composed of crossbred cows from planned matings. Cross-bred cows add longevity, fertility and increased weaning weights to the herd. All bull selections should be data driven and purchased from reputable sources.

Keep in mind that without good management, your herd will not express its genetic potential. Proper nutrition, herd health and forage management are also key to take advantage of genetic investments.

Do your homework before purchasing

Initial bull selections should be data driven. EPDs or Expected Progeny Differences should be used in initial bull selections. Utilizing the goals and traits identified above will establish EPD benchmarks within each bull breed. It is important to know breed EPD averages for important traits and realize EPD values need to match your environment. The largest or smallest EPD values may or may not be what is best for your herd.

Some breeders and sale catalogs will also provide adjusted weights and ratios. These are great tools to see how that bull performed against other bull calves born in the same herd during the same time period. However, EPDs have been proven to be the best indicator of the genetic potential of the bull. If you need help understanding or using EPDs, please contact your regional animal science and forage extension agent (www.aces.edulanimalforage).

At the Sale or Farm

Once initial bull selections have been made on paper, arrive in plenty of time to visual inspect each bull for structural soundness and overall eye appeal. Do not add any other bulls to the list once you begin visual inspection. All other bulls have already been culled from consideration because of performance reasons. Carefully inspect each bull from his hooves to his head. Look for structural imperfections such as screw claw, incorrect front and back leg structure, and lack of breed character. Inspect the scrotum. Ensure the bull has two testicles. Make sure he has adequate depth of body, is level between his hooks and pins, displays adequate muscling through the loin and rear quarter and has a level topline. If you are buying private treaty, ask to inspect his dam and sisters, paying attention to their udder characteristics and feet and leg structure. If a bull fails the visual inspection, do not buy him. Make sure the breeder will stand behind the bull after purchasing in case there are some unforeseen, uncorrectable problems.

The Investment

Investment of new bull genetics goes past the initial purchase price. In general, the price of a new herd bull should equal the price received for three to five calves. Thus, if the average calf sold from the herd is $500, a total of $1,500 to $2,500 should be invested in a new herd bull. If the average calf is sold from the herd is $900, a total of $2,700 to $4,500 should be the investment price. This type of investment should purchase a quality yearling or two-year old bull. In some cases, quality older bulls (three- to five-year olds) can be purchased from producers wanting to change bulls to eliminate mating him to his daughters.

Once the new bull is brought home, quarantine him from the rest of the herd for 30 days. This will minimize the risk of spreading disease to the entire cow herd. If the bull is a yearling, provide adequate nutrition. A yearling bull is still growing, just like a yearling heifer.

During the breeding season, watch the bull. Make sure he is breeding cows in heat. Watch to see if those cows come back in heat 21 days later. If the majority of cows recycle, this may indicate a fertility problem. Body condition score should remain between a 5 and a 5.5 during the breeding season. Bulls in poor condition lack the energy to breed cows and may not produce adequate sperm.

It is never too late to assess your herd and determine what is needed in terms of bull selection. Take the time, make initial bull selections on paper using all the performance tools available. Make sure adequate time is allotted to visually inspect each bull thoroughly for signs of structural incorrectness. Only buy bulls from respected, reputable sources. Proper bull selection only adds value to the herd, just like any good investment.







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