by: Darrh Bullock
Beef Extension Specialist, University of Kentucky

For commercial beef producers it is not too soon to start the process of accessing your herd bull situation for the upcoming breeding season. If you will be shopping for a bull this winter/spring, now is the time to start the process. This article is a brief reminder of some of the details that need your attention during this process.

Crossbreeding -- Assess your herd in terms of breed make-up. Over the past 5 to 10 years how many breeds of bull have you used? If you keep back replacement heifers and your answer is one then you definitely need to consider using a bull of a different breed this time. As a general rule of thumb we recommend that you don't keep back replacement heifers that have greater than 75 percent of any one breed, so if you have used the same breed for two-generations or longer then it is time to rotate. If your answer is greater than three then you need to consider focusing in on two or three breeds and establish a sound crossbreeding rotation.

Breed Selection -- Once you have decided on a crossbreeding program then decide which breeds fit your management, and each other, best. If you are a low input manager, and your nutritional program is limited, then you need to consider breeds that have more moderate production and thus lower maintenance requirements. On the other hand, if you have a great forage and nutrition program then more productive breeds may fit your situation better. Breeds also differ in terms of their calving ease, temperament, color, horned/polled and other factors.

Selection Criteria -- Now that you have settled on the breed of bull that fits your operation best it is time to start doing your homework prior to seeing any bulls. First, go to the association website of the breed you are interested in and learn as much as you can. Get familiar with their EPDs by locating their EPD percentile ranking table. This will help you identify what traits EPDs are computed for the breed and how bulls rank within the breed for the traits of importance to you. This chart is critical when evaluating a bull's EPDs, unless you are already extremely familiar with the breed. Next, identify seedstock breeders that have goals similar to yours; this may require some consultation with people in the beef business that you trust and some follow-up phone calls. If you're a low input producer you may want to avoid buying from a seedstock producer that focuses on maximizing production and provides the necessary inputs to accommodate that production. Make sure you are on the same page in regard to other factors such as disposition, calving ease, etc. Prior to going to an on-farm visit or sale, get the performance records (EPDs) in advance so that you can study them and know which bulls will work, based on their EPD values, prior to ever seeing the bulls. This should help you to avoid spontaneous reactions based on a bull's visual appearance. Have a list of acceptable bulls prior to going to purchase and don't stray from that list.

Purchasing the Bull -- The last step is actually buying the bull. Once you have your list, you can now evaluate the bulls on their structure and temperament in person. If a bull on your list fails either of these traits then they should be scratched off the list. Now you should have a list of bulls that should fit your needs and a price can be negotiated. This is another area that requires a lot of thought and there is no concrete or easy answer. Recognize what value the bull has to your long-term operation and determine a reasonable price on that basis. Always think in terms of cost and returns; for every $100 increase in price you pay you should expect at least a $100 increase in return.

With these simple steps in mind you should be able to locate and purchase a bull that fits your needs; it is not too early to start in that process. Always remember to have a breeding soundness exam performed on your bulls approximately a month prior to the breeding season to ensure that he is capable of settling cows. Good luck and happy bull shopping.

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