by: Scott P. Greiner
Virginia Tech Extension

When it comes to genetics, bull selection is the most important decision the cow-calf producer has to make. The bull represents not only 50 percent of the genetics of the current calf crop, but also 87.5 percent of the genetics replacement heifers reflect in their three-generation pedigree. Thus, a little homework goes a long way as we head into bull-buying season.

Here are 10 steps to help you establish a plan:

Examine herd goals. These will serve as the foundation for sire selection and highlight traits bearing the most economic importance.

Determine herd strengths and weaknesses. Simple records help determine herd strengths and weaknesses. Calving percentage, weaning percentage, weaning weights, sale weights, carcass merit and feed usage are necessary to assess areas of strength and those needing attention.

Establish selection priorities. Focus on the factors that have the greatest act on profitability. Income is derived from performance, which is influenced by both genetics and environment or management. Focus on a few priority traits rather than attempting to change many traits all at once.

Utilize selection tools. Structured crossbreeding plans provide the opportunity for improvement across multiple traits. A large number of Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) exist, so it's critical to determine which ones are most important and to establish benchmarks relevant to each.

Establish benchmarks. EPD values for current and past sires can be used as benchmarks. Choose EPDs to reflect desired increase, moderation or stabilization of performance for a particular trait.

Find source. From production sales to test stations to private treaty offerings, there are countless sources for bulls. It's critical to select a bull from reputable sources and breeders who will stand behind their products.

Do your homework. Prior to attending a sale, study catalogs, performance pedigrees and data. On paper, determine which bulls meet the EPD criteria you have established. Stay firm to your selection criteria.

Take a look. Once your list has been narrowed to the bulls that meet your criteria, further evaluate those sires and fine-tune your selection. Phenotypic evaluation helps narrow your list even further.

Make a sound investment. The value of the right bull cannot be overestimated. Investments in good genetics pay dividends, both short- and long-term, through the influence the bull has on each calf crop, as well as his daughters that are retained in the herd.

Proper management. Nutrition and proper management are essential for the bull to perform satisfactorily during the breeding season. Plan ahead by acquiring a new bull at least 60-90 days prior to the breeding season to allow for adjustment to his new environment and commingling with other bulls.

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