Bull purchases should be a planned event

Robert Wells for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 January 2019

Prescribed fire is a common practice to help control brush in native grass pastures. Those who implement prescribed fire will spend numerous hours and dollars preparing for this practice before it is implemented.

A prescribed fire will have an impact on the ranch for three to five years.

In contrast, a bull purchase decision will have an impact on the ranch for as long as his genetics are represented in the herd. If replacements from a particular sire are kept, his influence will outlive him on the ranch. It amazes me that most producers do not put as much thought and effort into sire selection as they will a prescribed fire.

The influence of a sire will have just as much or more of an impact on the ranch economics for years.

Selection decisions

Numerous decisions and processes should occur before writing the check for a new bull. Start early in order to give yourself enough time to work through the process. First, a producer needs to define his or her ranch goals and how the new bull will help to meet those goals. It is difficult for a bull to excel in every trait, and the few that do are too costly for the average commercial cattleman to buy and use for natural service.

Will the bull be used as a terminal or maternal sire? Once the decision is made on how the bull will be used, the producer should pick the breed to use and find the bull within the breed that meets their goals.

After the bull breed has been decided upon, it is time to do the early “homework” before you go to the seller’s ranch. Identify the reputable breeders in your region from whom you might purchase a bull. Request sale catalogs or registration numbers, date of birth and EPDs (expected progeny differences).

The easiest method I have found to handle the large amount of data you will sort through is to develop a spreadsheet with all the data from each bull. This allows you the ability to sort data numerous ways and easily filter out those bulls that do not meet your criteria.

Go to the breed website and look up the percentile rank tables for nonparent bulls. By doing so, you will be able to determine the relative quality of the bull for each trait. This gives you perspective as to how good and bad a bull is for each EPD trait.

I call this process “judging class on paper.” Consider the actual weights, but do not let them solely dictate your final decision. EPDs are more reliable than individual values as management can have a dramatic impact on birth, weaning and yearling weights; marbling scores; and backfat measurements.

Once you arrive on-site, you will now have a short list of bulls to phenotypically consider. Finally, a realistic price should be set on the value of the bulls you will consider. Base your purchase price on how the EPDs of interest will increase your profit potential for that bull. Some traits, like performance traits, are easier to determine the value, such as weaning or yearling weight.

Here is an example of how to place an economic value to a bull. Angus bull A has a weaning weight EPD of 67 (10th percentile). The breed weaning weight average is 52 (50th percentile). Bull A should sire calves that will be 15 pounds heavier than the average Angus bull. This bull will sire 125 calves over five years (bred to 25 cows for five years). Multiply the additional 15 pounds by 125 calves.

The result is an additional 1,875 pounds of weaning weight. If a modest value of gain of $1.35 per pound is used, the additional lifetime weaning weight from the better sire is worth $2,531.

Now, you can add this number to the average price for bulls in your area to determine the maximum bid price for this bull. If the average bull value is $2,250 plus $2,531, the breakeven for this bull would be $4,781. Assuming calves are sold at weaning in this scenario, anything less than $4,781 for the purchase price will be the profit potential of the bull.

The same calculations can be performed for all performance, carcass traits or index traits. This calculation does not take into account the intrinsic additional value you may receive for a better-perceived quality calf, such as selling a No. 1 versus a No. 2 quality calf.

Physical evaluation

Now that the homework is done, it is time to go to the bull sale and evaluate the bulls physically. Only consider the bulls on your short list. Do not deviate from the hard work you have done before sale day. The best bull on paper may be a structural nightmare and should not be bought.

Be extremely critical, and do not allow for deformities or structurally incorrect bulls. When physically judging the bull, start at the hooves and legs, then work your way up to the rest of the body. The bull should have good angles at the fetlock, hocks, shoulder and hip. A bull that has structurally incorrect legs (post-legged, sickle-hocked, etc.) will not last long in the herd.

Move the bull around and make him walk out to ensure he has a smooth, long stride and is not lame. Evaluate him from all sides – front, back and the side. This part is especially difficult with video auctions since most sale videos are short and only provide the side perspective. I once had an order buyer tell me he looks for calves that have “lots of butt and lots of guts.” Find the bull that has the most body capacity and is balanced.

Think of a rectangle. You want the body to be balanced, and as long, deep and wide as possible. You want a bull that will sire this type of calf. Likewise, disposition should be evaluated to ensure the bull will be amicable when you handle him.

Purchase day

Finally, the buyer should consider or beware of certain things when at the sale location. Make sure to pick up any supplemental sale sheets as lot numbers or data associated with a given bull may have changed. Sale day announcements will take precedence over any written information in the catalog.

Confirm the lot number of the bull in the ring before you start bidding, as a lot number may be skipped. Listen closely to the bidding process, as it will move very quickly. If you are not a seasoned bidder, sit close enough to the ring man that he can tell you where the bid price is at – do not hesitate to ask for confirmation.

In addition, for the inexperienced buyer, let another person set the opening bid. Determine the bid increment the auctioneer is using; typically, it will be in increments of $250 or $500. Try to get in on the bidding so you will be able to have the last bid at your maximum price. It is never a good feeling for a bull to sell to someone else at your maximum bid price, as you will wonder if you could have bid that value, would you have been able to get the bull bought.

Additionally, find out if the bull has passed a breeding soundness exam prior to the sale and any other health tests, such as a negative test status for Johne’s disease or persistent infection of bovine viral diarrhea virus (PI-BVDV).

Finally, know what guarantee comes with the bull. Will the seller honor the bull through the first breeding season or first year; if so, for what conditions? Most breed associations define a sound breeding bull as the bull only has to settle one cow in six months’ time. Is this the definition the seller will use, or does he have his own breeding guarantee terms?

Much planning and preparation should go into the purchase of a new bull. When possible, make a planned decision as to when the bull exits your program, and start the search early for his replacement. If you have a spring-breeding herd, when possible, look for his replacement in the fall. This will give you many opportunities to find the right bull at the right price.

Remember, the last bull in the sale is not the last bull for sale in the region. Do not lock yourself into a must-buy situation from any one seller. Doing so will only lead to a costly mistake. Prior planning will result in quality performance of the bull, and you will not be the person who is making a purchase decision “on the fly” while the bull is in the sale ring.  end mark

PHOTO: When observing a bull, try to envision a rectangle. You want the body to be balanced, and as long, deep and wide as possible. You want a bull that will sire this type of calf. Photo courtesy of Noble Research Institute.

Robert Wells

Marketing seedstock: Make it count

Progressive Cattleman Editor Cassidy Woolsey Published on 19 November 2018

“There are no new customers,” Rick Cozzitorto, president of Angus Media, warned National Angus Convention attendees in November. “The only way you get them is to steal them.”

While that might sound a little harsh, Cozzitorto has a point. He explained that 20 years ago, there were around 800,000 commercial cattlemen and now that number has dropped to 600,000. Likewise, there used to be roughly 200 Angus sales a year, now there are 1,250 Angus sales a year.

“We’re not growing any more [cattlemen]. There is no more land, no more cattle, that’s how you do it. And that’s all done through marketing.”

To be effective marketers, Cozzitorto told attendees they need to:

  1. Establish awareness
  2. Get customers to consider their business
  3. Get customers to convert
  4. Establish loyalty

The challenge, however, is there are only eight seconds to do it.

Citing a study from Microsoft Corp., Cozzitorto pointed out that the average consumer’s attention span is only eight seconds, thanks to an increasingly digitalized lifestyle. That doesn’t give breeders much time to educate a new customer about their program and ultimately, get them to convert.

Sara Reardon, also with Angus Media, referred to the awareness and consideration phase as an “elevator speech.” Basically, she said, “make sure you are not everything to everyone. If you’re explaining your business in a paragraph, what’s really special about that? You need to be able to say who you are and what you do in eight seconds.”

Diving a little deeper, Reardon told attendees to think about what promises they can deliver and if they are realistic. She pointed out that delivering the best cattle in the U.S. probably shouldn’t be on the list. Rather, she encouraged them to ask questions such as: What values are important to their organization? What makes their business unique? What are they doing for their customers? And from there, define their purpose and translate it into a mission statement.

“It’s your guiding phrase for your business,” Reardon said. “It focuses all decisions and the way you operate. Once you’ve established that mission statement, you might be surprised when you look back at your marketing materials and find that you probably weren’t as focused as you thought you were.” She encouraged breeders to set aside time to look at their website, current ads, social media and sale books to make sure their message is consistent.

Reardon also addressed the looming question: Is there a return on investment? While breeders might feel like they are throwing away much-needed cash, Reardon noted a study showing that with consistent delivery of brand image and message, business revenue can increase by 23 percent. “Did it happen immediately with just one ad? Absolutely not,” she said. On average, consumers have to see an ad seven times before they will even notice it.

In terms of budgeting, Reardon told attendees to look at their projected gross income and then develop their budget from there. If awareness is what a breeder needs, they can expect to spend 3 to 5 percent of their projected gross revenue. If they want people to start to convert, they can expect to spend 7 to 8 percent, and if they want to make a real impact, they should expect to spend 10 to 15 percent.

She said, “If you’re not willing to invest to reach those averages, maybe you need to adjust your expectation of what you’re going to get out of those ads.”

Both Reardon and Cozzitorto agree that it is much cheaper to maintain current customers than it is to find new ones. In fact, Cozzitorto said, a loyal customer is 50 percent more likely to buy a second bull, a second heifer, semen or a new product the business is offering, whereas it’s seven times more costly to gain a new customer.

“Take care of the ones you have, return that phone call, fix the problems, do everything you possibly can because they are loyal and they’ll stay with you,” he said. “If you lose a customer, it is your fault.”

Lastly, Cozzitorto encouraged attendees to spend some time researching their competition. How many ads do they run? Do they have a website? Are they on social media? He said, “We have people who breed great cattle and get average prices, and we have people who breed average cattle and get great prices. The difference is really just marketing.”  end mark

Cassidy Woolsey

PHOTO: Rick Cozzitorto, president of Angus Media, speaks to National Angus Convention attendees in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Cassidy Woolsey.

Updated across-breed EPD adjustment factors released

Expected progeny differences (EPDs) have resulted in substantial, positive genetic change in the cattle industry since their inception in the 1970s. However, because breed associations often use different national evaluation programs, EPDs of animals from different breeds cannot be compared because most breed associations compute their EPDs in separate analyses and each breed has a different base point.

BBG19 Bob&Kerry AcrossBreed EPDs
Acrossbreed EPD adjustment factors for 2019

Since 1993, the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) has produced a table of factors to adjust the EPDs of cattle so that the merit of individuals can be compared across breeds. These are called across-breed EPD (ABEPD) adjustment factors.

The across-breed adjustment factors allow producers to compare the EPDs for animals from different breeds for these traits; these factors reflect both the current breed difference (for animals born in 2016) and differences in the breed base point.

Updated across-breed EPD adjustment factors released

The factors are derived by estimating breed differences from the USMARC germplasm evaluation program and adjusting these differences for the EPDs of the sires that were sampled in the system. The traits for which factors are estimated are birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, maternal weaning weight (milk), marbling score, ribeye area, backfat depth, and carcass weight (Table 1). These factors adjust the EPDs to an Angus base (chosen arbitrarily).

Adjustment factors for carcass traits have been calculated since 2009 and carcass weight was added in 2015; to be included, breeds must have carcass data in the USMARC database and report their carcass EPDs on an actual carcass basis using an age-adjusted endpoint.

Bulls of different breeds can be compared on the same EPD scale by adding the appropriate adjustment factor to the EPDs produced in the most recent genetic evaluations for each of the 18 breeds.

The ABEPDs are most useful to commercial producers purchasing bulls of more than one breed to use in cross-breeding programs. For example, in terminal cross-breeding systems, ABEPDs can identify bulls in different breeds with high growth potential or favorable carcass characteristics.

As an example, suppose a Charolais bull has a weaning weight EPD of + 25.0 lbs. and a Hereford bull has a weaning weight EPD of + 70.0 lbs. The across-breed adjustment factors for weaning weight (see Table 1) are 32.7 lbs. for Charolais and -16.5 lbs. for Hereford. The ABEPD is 25.0 lbs. + 32.7 lbs. = 57.7 lbs. for the Charolais bull and 70.0 – 16.5 = 53.5 lbs. for the Hereford bull.

The expected weaning weight difference of offspring when both are mated to cows of another breed (e.g., Angus) would be 57.7 lbs. – 53.5 lbs. = 4.2 lbs.

It is important to note that the table factors (Table 1) do not represent a direct comparison among the different breeds because of base differences between the breeds. They should only be used to compare the EPDs of animals in different breeds.

To reduce confusion, breed of sire means (i.e., one half of full breed effect; breed of sire means predict differences when bulls from two different breeds are mated to cows of a third, unrelated breed) for animals born in 2016 under conditions similar to USMARC are presented in Table 2.

The adjustment factors in Table 1 were updated using EPDs from the most recent national cattle evaluations conducted by each of the 18 breed associations (current as of December 2018).

The breed differences used to calculate the factors are based on comparisons of progeny of sires from each of these breeds in the Germplasm Evaluation Program at US MARC in Clay Center, NE. These analyses were conducted by US MARC geneticists Larry Kuehn and Mark Thallman.

Future release of ABEPD factors

The ABEPD factors were traditionally derived and released during the annual Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) conference each year. However, this is not ideal for commercial producers buying bulls in the spring or fall season.

A BIF working group recommended a plan to begin releasing the ABEPD factors near the beginning of each year to facilitate the use of these tools during spring bull buying. That began last year.

Additional updates may be released throughout the year, particularly if breeds are aware of significant changes to their evaluations, such as base adjustments. As of now, changes to the factors will be reported on the BIF website (www.beefimprovement.org); for instance, we are working to update information for the marbling adjustment factor in Brahman. — BIF

Producers struggle to regulate cow size

Teresa Clark
for The Fence Post

Determining what size of cow is ideal for the environment is a hot topic. It depends on the environment, the ranch, and sometimes the rancher. What is even harder is settling on a certain size of cow, and maintaining it.

University of Wyoming Extension Rangeland Specialist Derek Scasta shared a story about his grandfather’s struggles to maintain cow size in his own herd. “What we have is a lot of information to go through,” Scasta told producers during the recent Southeast Wyoming Beef Production convention. “When my grandfather would go to a bull sale, he was looking for EPDs for low birth weight and higher weaning weight, but he may have ignored the maternal traits, and then kept the higher end of the heifer calves for replacements,” he said. The result over time was larger cows.

Looking at the bull’s maternal EPDs will indicate how the heifer calves will look, Scasta said. The bull may have had a positive EPD for milk and mature size, producing larger daughters. “That is why you really need to sort through the bull catalog and look at those EPDs,” he said.


In 1975, the average beef cow in the U.S. weighed 1,000 pounds, which became the range management standard for calculating animal unit months. However, recent data suggests the average beef cow now weighs 1,400 pounds. “In 2010, 16 percent of the U.S. beef cows were more than 1,500 pounds,” Scasta said. “That’s millions of beef cows that weigh more than 1,500 pounds on range and pasture in the U.S.”

Despite a more than 400 pound increase in cow size in the last 40 years, Scasta said no evidence exists to suggest that increase has resulted in weaning larger calves. “We have enhanced the production and performance potential of cows, but we may not be realizing that in terms of calf weaning weight,” he said.

The EPD for yearling weight has increased 100 pounds in the Angus breed, which basically shows ranchers have been selecting for growth in cattle. In 1985, the average carcass weight was 725 pounds, and in 2015, it was 892 pounds, which is 165 pounds larger. “Cattle are basically 20 percent heavier than 35 years ago, and 10 percent heavier than 15 years ago,” he said.

With that amount of growth has come some negatives in relation to animal welfare. Cattle pots were originally designed to haul smaller cattle. “With these bigger cattle, a lot of them will bump their back going into that lower deck, which leaves a bruise on their back leading to a cut out. It is costing the industry $35 million a year because the cattle are bigger today than what the trailers were originally designed for,” Scasta said.


It is not just a matter of muscle growth. Ranchers have also selected for milk production. “As we have enhanced the performance of our cattle, what has been happening to rangeland? Actually, rangeland has stayed pretty flat despite the production potential of cattle increasing. We have managed to optimize what we get from the range, and it has stayed pretty consistent over time,” he said. “Ranchers have done a good job of matching their cattle genetics with range productivity.”

Scasta said there is a lot of disagreement over optimum cow size. Some studies suggest smaller cows are better because of live weight production and income, while others find larger cows to be more efficient because they have a larger rumen which could be an advantage for the efficiency of processing low quality forages.

A lot of the data available comes from feeding trials, where they did a lot of modeling, Scasta said. “What I found was a lot of mixed studies, and a lack of information in Wyoming,” he said.

Do larger cows wean larger calves?

One study he shared that was published in the Journal of Animal Science, studied how cow size impacts calf weaning weights relative to precipitation extremes. The four-year study involved 80 cows grazing rangeland northwest of Laramie.

The study showed that during the driest years, the larger cows had an advantage, and the smaller cows weaned lighter calves. However, the results were opposite during wet years, and variable during average years. “Taking the average of all four years into account, they found no significant difference in terms of cow size class,” Scasta said. “Smaller cows weaned calves statistically similar to those weaned from the bigger cows, riding the roller coaster of wet-dry-wet-dry,” he said. Calculating the input-output ratio, which is the pounds of grass consumed relative to the pounds of calf weaned, the smaller cows were weaning similar size calves across all wet-dry cycles, Scasta said, while eating less because their nutritional requirements were lower.

A 1,000 pound cow consumed 7½ pounds of grass per pound of weaned calf, according to the study. For a 1,200 pound cow that number jumped to 8½ pounds, and for 1,400 pound cow, it was 9½ pounds. “Basically, the larger cows had to eat more per pound of calf weaned,” he said. “Most ranchers have an efficiency target for the cow weaning a calf that is at least 50 percent of the cow’s body weight. So, a 1,000 pound cow should wean at least a 500 pound calf. In this study, the smaller cows were the only ones to reach that target,” Scasta said.

In another study, Scasta worked with a Wyoming ranch to analyze 8,000 cow/calf records with 13 years of data to determine which cow size is most efficient. The cow size on this ranch varied from 800 to 1,600 pounds, but the majority of the cows weighed 1,100 to 1,300 pounds, Scasta said.

From this data, Scasta found that the smaller to moderate size cows were closer to hitting the 50 percent cow size to weaning weight target, compared to their larger counterparts. “The 1,600 pound cows were actually pretty inefficient for the amount of grass they eat,” he said. “I think the data indicates managing for moderate size cows, and to not let them get bigger over time.” ❖

— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at tclarklivenews@gmail.com.

Where do I get the right bulls for my maternal cowherd?

Finding fast-growing, terminal bulls is relatively easy. But good bulls that will make good cows can be a difficult search.

Burke Teichert | Jan 03, 2019

Last month I wrote about heifer development, suggesting methods different from those typically used. I have since been wondering about the bulls used by most ranchers who produce their own replacement heifers. Are those bulls “undoing” most of what the producer is trying to accomplish with his heifer development and selection practices?

Looking back into my own history of cattle breeding, I have become convinced that most of us ranchers have been using terminal matings across our entire herd, except for heifers, since the early 70s when the continental breeds started to arrive in the U.S. It was an easy way to get a nice increase in weaning weight.

Related: Burke Teichert’s top 5 tips on bull selection

At about the same time, progeny testing was becoming popular and many of us got caught up in a race for higher and higher weaning weights which was further facilitated by the advent of EPDs. We did get higher weaning weights because we could always find a bull with a little more growth.

We were making terminal matings. The problem was that we weren’t doing terminal marketing. We were keeping those heifer calves as replacement heifers. So, cow size and milk production kept increasing. And stocking rate was decreasing or purchased feed was increasing.

Related: Burke’s Challenge: Find a better way to ranch

I see no problem with ranchers deciding to use only terminal matings if they sell all of their calves—steers and heifers. In fact, I think many producers would be well advised to do exactly that.
It is easy to find good bulls for terminal matings. Current EPDs lend themselves well to selection for growth and carcass traits. I know a good number of breeders who buy replacement cows, make terminal matings and sell all of the calves.

The cows are just cows—nothing special. But the calves have a great potential for growth and carcass performance. They are nicely profitable. What if the cows were something special—coming from well-developed maternal herds?

Now, where are the bulls for the maternal breeders who are making their own replacement heifers, perhaps with the idea of having some bred cows to sell? These bulls are difficult to find.

Most of the EPDs available are not for maternal traits except as limiters—reducing cow size and milk, keeping growth in a moderate range, balancing maternal calving ease and calving ease direct, etc. Moderation of size, milk, growth and muscle seem to make better long-term mother cows.

The use of selection indices has some appeal. But when “supposed” strength in one trait can compensate for “supposed” weakness in another trait, what is an acceptable balance? When does high growth cause reduction in fertility or increase cow size (reduce stocking rate) in the next generation? At what level should milk production become a negative in the index?

I have asked a number of seedstock breeders those questions and only one had an answer; and I thought his level was too high—purely a guess on my part. What about epigenetic effects? This happens when environmental factors turn on or off (or possibly modify) gene effects. How much of that is heritable or not heritable?

While I like to get aggressive in the use of EPDs for terminal sire selection, for reasons cited, I am much more cautious in the use of EPDs to select bulls for maternal herds. “Moderate” needs to be defined for your ranch, but the range around “your moderate” cannot be too large for any trait.

Cows must become adapted to your environment and then be adaptable to year-to-year variation. Nature will tell you which cows to cull and which bulls to select; but you need to recognize which ones they are.

There are some physical traits that are important such as udder quality, ability to move and travel, ability to maintain body condition on grazed feed with minimal supplementation, feed intake capacity, etc.

Beyond these, I am reminded of a statement heard many years ago—“We need to quit telling cattle what to look like and, instead, tell them what we want them to do and then let them look the way they need to look in order to do what we want them to do.” Remember, we can’t ask them to do more than the environment will provide for and allow.

I think there are a few people who have learned what cows need to look like, but most of us don’t have that skill except for the very obvious. So, how do you choose a bull for maternal matings?

First, the bull must be born in the first 25 days of the calving season—ideally a result of first cycle conception. Then I like to know as much as possible about closely related females. What about their udders, what is their mobility, how about disposition, how long are they staying in the cow herd, what kind of calves do they produce, are they always healthy, etc.?

Fertility and longevity along with the ability to produce an acceptable calf are really what we are looking for in good cows. Bulls that make that kind of cow are hard to find. Bulls that make the good cows usually come from good cow families—dams, grand-dams, sisters, and daughters are almost all good.

I think that is the reason that a good number of successful commercial ranchers are producing their own bulls. They select bulls from their adapted cows that have always calved in the first cycle. The cow must have calved as a two-year-old and again as a three-year-old before a bull can be kept.

The bulls must have good weight in relationship to hip height at one year of age. They must pass a BSE at a year of age after minimal development. A few breeders are breeding their yearling heifers to their yearling bulls—only yearling bulls—then using DNA for parentage to know which bulls sired the most calves. That ought to check for a combination of fertility, libido and structural soundness at a young age.
To have a good maternal cow herd you must use bulls that are highly fertile, structurally sound, that will produce calves that have good growth (not outstanding) and are acceptable in the marketplace.

Let’s Talk Efficiency!!!

Taken from – http://www.midlandbulltest.com/blog/

Welcome back to the “Final Sort Blog!”  We need to talk efficiency folks! It’s all about getting MORE for LESS…working SMARTER…not HARDER!

In spite of the work done here at MBT, efficiency STILL seems to be elusive to some folks.  We recently communicated about the efficiency of an unnamed herd.  A tremendous number of assertions were being made, but there was no measurement of INPUTS!  Now it is true that they had a great understanding who the “apparent” easy do-ers were in their herd, but they moved them right into the category of “efficient bulls.” Now we must agree!  It is certainly nice to see those nice, soft, round sided calves at weaning.  Those shiny buggers that pair growth and gain into a beautiful package that knocks your eyes out!  We’ll take that any day, but we’ve said it once, and we’ll re-assert!  The margin is in the middle…lodged right between the money you get and the money you give!

The whole conversation makes me think of two geldings Gus and Sam standing out under the big cottonwood tree swatting flies.  Gus and Sam are nearly a matched pair, both golden in the summer sun, fat and a bit sassy.  The only thing that separates Gus and Sam is a board fence that runs between the grass pasture that Gus stands in and the dry lot corral Sam lives in.  Gus grazes nearly all day long until the summer sun blazes down when he finds relief under the big oak tree.  Sam gets about three flakes of grass hay every morning and evening spending the majority of his day coveting Gus’s knee deep luscious green grass!  Now I assure you, we think the world of Gus, but he’s just an easy keeper. Sam is able to maintain the same body condition on less!  Hands down, Sam is the most efficient specimen in the herd!  Efficiency happens when each pound gained requires less than average input and ‘ol Sam nails it!

The fallacy happens when folks only focus on the gross.  It doesn’t matter if you gross your first million but you spent two million to make it happen.  The same is true when we feed cattle.  Here at Midland, we search out those individuals who require less feed (and therefore money) to gain each and every pound.  That trait must be paired by the same animal with the ability to also out gain their contemporaries!  That’s the combination we are looking for!  Simply spoken, it’s doing more with less!

It is mighty hard to refocus our priorities when we’ve programed ourselves for years to seek those 650 pound weaning weights.  Many a shiny bragging rights have accompanied those plump weaning weights here in our Big Sky country.  Those plump shiny calves do paint a pretty picture as they trot across the scale.  But!  Consider this….here at Midland, we focus on achieving those same goals, all the while minimizing your feed costs.

For Example…

Two bulls were tested at Midland and both came off the efficiency test at 1,100 lbs.  Their stats are as follows:

Bull A – ADG 3.47, Dry Matter Intake 28.73 lbs/day, Feed to Gain Ratio 8.28 lbs of feed/lb of gain, RFI 3.90

Bull B – ADG 3.26, Dry Matter Intake 22.45 lbs/day, Feed to Gain Ratio 6.90 lbs of feed/lb of gain, RFI 2.77

Without measuring their inputs, it appears that the bulls performed almost identically with Bull A showing a slight advantage in the raw ADG.  When the inputs are added to the equation, the picture changes radically!  Bull B consumed 6.28 pounds per day less than Bull A marking a 21% difference!  When we put the dollars and cents to it, that’s an $80-$120/head savings in the feedlot and $60-$80/year savings on daughters retained in the cow herd without impacting any weights of their calves!

We’re in a dog eat dog business and we can’t afford to have inefficiency unnecessarily inflating our costs by 21%; and we can’t afford to waste 21% of our grass, hay and silage!  The dirt needed to produce that grass is simply too expensive to throw away 21% of the crop!  And folks!  That’s just the cost side!  These savings create growth opportunity as that 21% is an unrealized opportunity allowing us to increase our carrying capacity and incremental revenue!   Imagine if your retirement planner explained that you could earn an additional 21% return on your investments!  We certainly wouldn’t leave that opportunity on the table!

Let me say that one more time!  You have a choice!  Efficient cattle will cut your incremental cost thereby increasing your margins.  At the very same time, in a static environment, you will find that you are able to INCREASE your carrying capacity!  Wow!

Long story short….fat does not equal efficiency and you can’t select for a trait unless you measure it! AND!!! EFFICIENCY PAYS!

Birth Weights… HOW LOW DO YOU GO!

Taken from – http://www.midlandbulltest.com/blog/

Thank you Rachel Sutherlin for being our guest blogger!  Rachel is completing her internship here at MBT this month.  We sincerely appreciate her work at MBT and wish her the best of luck as she returns to her schooling!

Birth Weights… HOW LOW DO YOU GO!

We don’t want to give up power and torque when it comes to our vehicles because we expect optimal performance.  So…why do we select for below average birth weights and not push our cows to the same standards of optimal performance?  It is often said that too much of a good thing is bad?  In light of low birth weights, have we pushed too far?  Are they beginning to cost us too much?  Have we passed that pinnacle point of diminishing returns?  Where do we draw the line between low birth weights being a positive or negative attribute?

A dead calf is worth nothing…and no one wants to deal with a hard pull!  Keeping birth weights in check is important; but, are we putting too much emphasis on a negative birth weight EPD?  A cow should be able to deliver a calf weighing 7% of her body weight without assistance.  If she can’t, send her to the cull pen?  Recent trends are driving birth weights lower and lower resulting in much smaller calves… sometimes 60lb or less.  Producers are paid by the pound at weaning or on the rail and those ultra small calves NEVER catch up!   Why are we cutting ourselves short by not making our cows work for us?

If our goal is to save time and labor as we breed for small calves at birth; we must also assess how much extra work and effort a dink calf will require.  A dink calf can cost many long hours in the calf warmer because they don’t get up on a cold nights; followed by hours in the maternity pen suckling because they can’t get the job done!  The same dink calf may die because he is too weak to get up if he is born in the middle of the night.  Sometimes theses calves aren’t big enough or strong enough to sustain those first few hours. What is the point of these ultra low birth weights if they result in exponentially higher labor costs and cause your death loss to sky rocket?  You are then faced with the decision of breeding or culling those cows who lost their calf even though you purposefully bred her to produce that dink calf who was unstable to survive!  You are essentially undermining the stay-ability of your mother cows by setting them up for failure.

We need to make our cattle work for us to minimize cost and effort!  We must be especially mindful of undermining her ability.  Using a low BW bull on a cow sired by a low BW bull can produce a smaller pelvis in her female progeny.  As a result, you have just exacerbated your problem as the offspring will have an even harder time calving….even low birth weight calves.  We must consider the big picture and the long-term effects to determine whether we are hurting or helping ourselves.  Low birth weights are good for first time heifers and small framed cows; but, we need to push those bigger birth weights on cows to maximize our return….and they should be able to handle it!

We need to make our cows work for us.  Don’t lose money on the first day!  We have to focus on not turning these lower trending birth weights into a bad thing!

Bull buying checklist – EBVs


Your breeding objective

Before selecting a bull it is important that you have clear breeding objectives set for your herd. The following points should be used as a guide to determining your breeding objectives.

  • Traits of economic importance
  • Customer/market requirements
  • Herd production targets
  • Current herd performance
  • Breeding goals and selection criteria

Estimated breeding values (EBVs) can be combined into a $Index EBV which effectively ranks available animals with all traits weighted according to their effect on the profit drivers for the herd.

Make sure you keep your selection criteria in mind when selecting a bull. It is important that you rank your selection criteria in priority order. This will help you make a choice between bulls that generally meet your selection criteria. For more information see Breeding objectives.


Select genetically docile bulls to increase the probability that progeny will be quieter, have higher growth rate and transport better.

Temperament can be measured using ‘flight time’ or scored using a crush or yard test. The flight speed measure provides a more accurate and heritable measure of the trait to modify herd performance. For more information see Improving temperament and flight time.

Veterinary Bull Breeding Soundness Evaluation or BULLCHECK™

The Veterinary Bull Breeding Soundness Evaluation (VBBSE) was developed by the Australian Cattle Veterinarians to standardise bull fertility testing and to provide a consistent descriptor of bull fertility.

The report indicates whether a bull has met a set of standards for five bull fertility components. The components of fertility assessed are those that indicate whether a bull has a high probability, but not a guarantee, of being fertile.

The two components of the VBBSE are:

a) A summary of the five indicative components of bull fertility (see example below)

Bull number/name Age Yr:Mn Scrotum Physical Semen Morphology Serving
AACV Top of the Rack 2.02 37.0cm P Nt

b) A full report that identifies the bull, date of testing and by whom, where and comments associated with each test. A summary of the five components of bull fertility in the BBSE follows:

Scrotum – Scrotal circumference/size (SS) in centimetres (cm) where testes shape is within normal range. The current recommendations for tropically adapted bulls are a minimum scrotal size of 32cm (and average is 34–36cm) for a two-year-old bull.

Physical – Within the constraints of a standard examination, there is no evidence of any general physical/structural condition or of a physical condition of the reproductive tract indicating sub-fertility or infertility. This evaluation will identify structurally unsound bulls in legs, feet, sheath and general structure.

Semen – Crush-side assessment indicates that the semen is within normal range for motility, colour and per cent progressively motile and is suitable for laboratory evaluation.

Morphology – Semen examination of per cent normal sperm using high power magnification to ensure minimum standards for normal function are achieved.

Serving – The bull is able to serve normally as demonstrated in a standard test and shows no evidence of fertility limiting defects.

For more information see Bull breeding soundness examination (BBSE).

Serving capacity testing

Serving capacity testing provides:

  • an indication of a bulls ability to mount and serve a cow/heifer and includes both reproductive and structural soundness (legs, feet, sheath, penis and overall anatomy)
  • a measure of the sex drive (libido) or eagerness of a male to seek out a female on heat
  • an indication of the subsequent pregnancy rates achieved following a restricted mating period (more particularly in Bos taurus breeds).

The summary table (like the example) will indicate:

For this component, the bull met the fertility standards as published by the Australian Association of Cattle Veterinarians x The bull did not meet the standards for this fertility component
Na Not Applicable e.g. certificate not required to indicate status for this fertility component Nt This fertility component was not fully tested/evaluated
P (For Morphology only). The samples taken do not meet the full standards but indicate that the bull is very likely to be fertile under natural mating P=>50% and <70% N. Seek advice from your cattle vet. A ü = >70% Normal

Estimated Breeding Values

Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) are predictions of an animal’s genetic merit, based on available performance data on the individual and its relatives.

BREEDPLAN EBVs are expressed in the units of measurement for each particular trait. They are shown as positive or negative differences from the breed base (or breed average). EBVs provide the best basis for the comparison of the genetic merit of animals reared in different environments and management conditions. EBVs can only be used to compare animals within the same breed.

The differences in EBVs between animals are more important than the absolute value of the EBV. Particular animals should be viewed as being ‘above breed average’ for a particular trait only if their EBVs are better than the average EBVs of all animals born in their year drop.

EBVs are published for a range of traits including fertility, growth and carcase merit. When using EBVs to assist in selection decisions it is important to achieve a balance between the different traits and to place emphasis on those traits that are important to your herd, your markets, and your environment.

Calving Ease Traits

Calving ease is an important economic trait because of its impact on calf and heifer mortality, labour and veterinary expenses at calving time, and subsequent re-breeding performance of female cattle.

Calving Ease (DIRECT) EBVs

Calving Ease (DIR) EBVs are estimates of genetic differences among animals in their ability as a direct effect of the sire. The EBVs are reported as differences in the percentage unassisted calvings. Higher, more positive, Calving Ease (DIR) EBVs are more favourable.

Calving Ease (DTRS (daughters)) EBVs

Calving Ease (DTRS) EBVs indicates the genetic differences for calving ease of an animals daughters. The EBVs are reported as differences in the percentage unassisted calvings. Higher, more positive, Calving Ease (DTRS) EBVs are more favourable.

Gestation Length EBVs

Gestation Length EBVs are estimates of genetic differences among animals in the number of days from the date of conception until the calf birth date. Lower, or more negative, Gestation Length EBVs are generally more favourable. This EBV is only available where the mating and calving dates are known.

Birth Wt EBVs

Birth Wt EBVs are estimates of genetic differences between animals in kg of calf birth weight. Small, or moderate, Birth Wt EBVs are more favourable.

Fertility Traits

Fertility is a critical component influencing the profitability of a breeding herd. EBVs are provided for two fertility traits – Days to Calving and Scrotal Size. These traits contribute important information to assist in making breeding decisions to maintain herd fertility.

Days to Calving EBVs

Days to Calving (DC) EBVs are estimates of genetic differences in fertility, expressed as the number of days from the start of the joining period until subsequent calving. Lower, or more negative for Days to Calving EBVs are more favourable.

Scrotal Size EBVs

Scrotal Size EBVs are estimates of the genetic differences among animals in scrotal circumference at 400 days of age. Larger, or more positive, Scrotal Size EBVs are more favourable.

Growth Traits

EBVs are provided for three growth traits: 200-Day Wt, 400-Day Wt and 600-Day Wt. Selection for growth traits should be relative to the target market weights.

200-Day Wt EBVs

200-Day Wt EBVs are estimates of the genetic differences among animals in weight at 200 days of age. Larger, more positive, 200-Day Wt EBVs are generally more favourable.

400-Day Wt EBVs

400-Day Wt EBVs are estimates of the genetic differences among animals in weight at 400 days of age.  Larger, more positive, 400-Day Wt EBVs are generally more favourable.

600-Day Wt EBVs

600-Day Wt EBVs are estimates of the genetic differences among animals in liveweight at 600 days of age. Larger, more positive, 600-Day Wt EBVs are generally more favourable.

Mature Cow Wt EBVs

Mature cow weight is recorded at the time the calf is weaned and taken over up to five calvings. It is an indication of the mature weight of the breeders and should be related to the nutrition available on the property.

Carcase Traits

Carcase Weight EBVs

Carcase weight EBVs are estimates of the genetic differences among animals in hot standard carcase weight at 650 days of age. Larger, more positive, Carcase Weight EBVs are more favorable.

Eye Muscle Area (EMA) EBVs

EMA EBVs are estimates of the genetic differences among animals in eye muscle area (cm2) at the 12/13th rib site on a 300kg carcase. Larger, more positive, EMA EBVs are generally more favourable.

Rib Fat EBVs

Rib Fat EBVs are estimates of the genetic differences among animals in fat depth (mm) at the 12/13th rib site, on a 300kg carcase. Rib Fat EBVs are used to change the progeny fat levels relative to the market specifications.

Rump Fat EBVs

Rump Fat EBVs are estimates of genetic differences among animals in fat depth at the P8 rump site on a standard 300kg carcase. Rump Fat EBVs are used to change the progeny fat levels relative to the market specifications.

Retail Beef Yield % (RBY%) EBVs

RBY% EBVs are estimates of genetic differences among animals in percentage retail beef yield in a 300kg carcase, with 2–3mm fat trim, adjusted to 85% chemical lean. Larger, more positive, RBY % values are more favourable.

Intra-Muscular Fat % (IMF%) EBVs

IMF% EBVs are estimates of genetic differences among animals in percentage intra-muscular fat (marbling) in a 300kg carcase. Depending on the market targets, positive IMF% EBVs may be more favourable.

Other issues to consider

DNA Markers

This is a developing science and provides a key for the future. Markers are now available for Marbling and Tenderness traits. This technology has potential to identify animals carrying the desired markers, but may not provide its fullest benefit until further markers are identified for many traits.

Net Feed Efficiency (NFI)

Net Feed Efficiency (NFI) identifies animals that are more efficient converters of available feed to kg of liveweight gain. A negative EBV for NFI will provide the opportunity for producers to select more efficient animals.

In summary

  • Set your ‘breeding objectives’
  • Select only genetically docile bulls (flight time test preferable)
  • Ask for a Veterinary Bull Breeding Soundness Evaluation (VBBSE) before sale
  • Research BREEDPLAN EBVs (available on line before sale).

Summary table for buyers to ‘fill in’ with their bull selections and associated data for comparisons in advance of auctions commencing.

The GREAT RECONCILIATION – Paper Cows vs. Teeth Tits & Wheels

Taken from – http://www.midlandbulltest.com/blog/

Humbled is how we come to you today; but humored as well.  We are so incredibly thankful for the beautiful illustrations of humanity that we work and walk with in this life’s business.  They are great people…the best in fact!  These folks that we admire are tenacious (or is it stubborn?), hard-working (or is it hard-headed?), convicted (or is it “strongly” opinionated?), visionary and forward thinking (unless you are looking down the road from the opposite direction; then they’re just plain backward!)  You get the picture!  These vibrant strands of humanity woven throughout our industry are as subject to perception as any other sector of humanity….and let me tell you…sometimes they really do embrace their humanity…aaahhhhum!  With that vibrant picture painted before your keenly lit eyes, I introduce you to two sectors of our industry:  the purebred/registered breeder and the commercial cattlemen.  Before I delve into the characteristics of these two sectors, I must warn you that I am going to be a bit precocious ribbing each of them as I reconcile their uniquely perceived interests into one common interest of success! (So, whichever group you belong to, please know that I intend to give you a little rub as I have a bit of fun with you!)

Introducing the purebred/registered breeder!  Our industry is truly indebted to the visionary cattlemen who are geneticists, scientists and those who have the desire to build the best bovine that has ever graced God’s green earth!  We like them round, sound and low to the ground and we like them pretty!  Nice feet, wedged just right, pretty udders, perfect angles and doe-like faces with lashes like Bambi!  These cattlemen are generally plagued with passion that cause wives and daughters to be envious of Lucky Lucy Loo #302!  These folks are some of our brightest and best on every level.  A few subtle years ago, these folks challenged heaven and earth (in and out of the show-ring!) as they began breeding for the better bovine with their eyes focused intently on quality and profitability.  That passion gave rise to relative bench-marking, tracking of statistics, creation of performance associations, development of indexes, and creation of EPD’s.  In today’s climate, many pass over the cow’s production records for gestation, weaning weights, birth weights and fertility.  Instead, they look almost exclusively at EPD’s or gnomics; and, have forgotten that “function must fit the form!” Great numbers will not result in great cows if they are not designed to thrive in the intended environment.  The notion of exclusively or predominantly looking at the numbers, which are mere expected performance guesses, has led to the eventual demise of evaluating “Betsy on the hoof” and the equally eventual evolution of the PAPER cow.

In this world of $500,000 cows, shiny auction blocks, polished people and beautiful…. beautiful papers, it seems as though the cow and her eventual offspring are oft forgotten!  Additionally, in this world, one could argue that we have moved to that precarious place where we are breeding paper instead of cows at all…and, in fact, the phenotype of the cow may in fact be a poorly conceived after-thought.  Here lies the birth of the perils that cause us to cringe.  Our industry is fraught with beautiful pedigrees accompanied by bad feet including corkscrew claw, long toes and short flat heels.  Equally prolific are structural compromises such as straight shoulders and post-y hips, bad bags, raised, sloped tail heads and small pelvises.  Lastly we have the specimen who is unable to maintain a consistent breed back or who does not display maternal characteristics that will lend to care free calving.  Based on the beauty of the pedigrees, the trendy names and novelty of the numbers, however, these characteristics are overlooked and Betsy Be Gone dodges the cull gate again and again.  On some outfits, she is excused on that occasional year when she doesn’t raise a calf; she gets a much needed pedicure each fall; and, she slowly evolves from a spring calver to a fall calver and back to a spring calver as the calving date slips ever so slightly each and every year.  But…you must understand, the numbers are simply beautiful!  Fortunately the gifted minds and convictions of our forefathers in this cattle building business have persevered! Most of our breeders are performance based cattlemen who understand what makes a cow herd work; and, what traits are important to the cattleman!

Now, before you rain hell and fire in my direction, let’s have a bit of fun with the commercial cattleman and I assure you, we’ll eventually weave this tale together in a happy way that leaves every party with their dignity in tact!

I enjoy those moments spent basking in the simple yet brilliant wisdom of the commercial cattleman.  This specimen is the most tenacious of businessmen.  The commercial cattleman is truly the most pristine picture of the west; the portrait of the free spirited American cowboy…deeply attached to the land, the legacy and the livestock.  He is the man who sells pounds for a living in spite of the market, the politics and the weather.  He operates on a larger scale and a tighter budget with a keen eye bent toward input costs as he keeps that ever-shrinking bottom line black.  All the while he supplies the world with pounds of red meat …the BEST red meat that money will buy I might add!   The commercial mind is focused on profitability and is keenly aware that the “best” cow ($$$) may not be the best investment.  He balances on the wire as he weighs capital outlay, return ofinvestment and return on investment with herd quality and cash flow.

The commercial cattleman understands real world cattle and the harsh conditions in which our stock must thrive to remain profitable.  He is keenly aware that the mama cow must take care of herself, raise a calf independently, breed back, wean a respectable calf and do it again year after year without falter.  He may breed and raise his own replacements; or his cattle may be sprinkled with somewhere upward of 6 brands….6 breeds and 6 colors.  In spite of this, he knows quite intimately that pay day is all about tipping the scale on shipping day; it’s a vicious game he plays.  He shoots for BALANCED….round, sound and low to the ground; muscle, mass, deep ribs, length like a freight train, the ability to cover country like a mountain goat all the while gaining weight as if Thanksgiving happens every day! Occasionally, however, the deals draw him into a few specimen that scream tall, flat and narrow as he attempts to balance quality with capital outlay!  The trick though, is that those tall, flat and narrow cows wean the same type of calves; and, they trip over pennies eating dollar bills as they do it.  He shakes his head as he scans the pen on shipping day knowing full well that some of those “let it slide” decisions have cost him as he overlooks a pen of uneven calves lacking uniformity, desirability….and 50 pounds.  On cull day, he has his sights set high, but in light of the slumped killer cow market and the pretty penny those shiny bred heifers will cost him…he may let Lop Sided Lucy slip by one more time noting that “she raised a whopper calf this year…and after all…she’s got teeth, tits and wheels…and she’s got a calf in her!”  What the heck…does she need teeth?

And alas my friends, this is the point when we come full circle.  While I have been incredibly sarcastic at the expense of “our people.”  These are the BEST people God created in vicious pursuit of the BEST life….building the best legacies!  The take-away from this conversation is that we must be mindful of the end game in order to be successful; and, neither segment of this industry can exist without the other.  The purebred breeder needs the commercial cattleman; he is the factory for the cattle industry!  As such, the purebred industry must be mindful that while the numbers are a imperative to continued improvement and a crucial means to the end, but they must not lose sight of those things that are essential to the commercial cattleman!  We must have sound, efficientcattle who are able to produce and reproduce year after year.  That means that our purebred cattle must be proven to survive and thrive facing the same elements and criteria as their commercial counterparts.  Likewise, the commercial cattlemen need good cattle to continue to produce the best beef that the world has to offer!  They need the design team and they look to you…they NEED you…the purebred breeder to make that happen!

Ps!  As you travel around, Midland may very well be the ONLY major sale that provides the damn dam production records!

Hidden revolution in beef genetics

Genetic evaluation accuracy leaps ahead.

Wes Ishmael | Jan 02, 2019

“Before, as a commercial bull buyer, you ran the risk of making incorrect bull-buying decisions if you weren’t using EPDs. That risk is now significantly greater,” says Matt Spangler, beef genetics specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Ignoring EPDs comes with more risk because EPDs are significantly more accurate than they were 12 to 18 months ago, due to a new way of calculating them.

In simple, incomplete terms, the breeds most used by commercial cattle producers adopted something termed “single step.” It’s a new way of calculating genomic-enhanced EPDs (GE-EDPs), in which pedigree, genotype, phenotypic information and progeny performance are incorporated into the calculation at the same time.

Before, GE-EPDs were created by incorporating genomic data with previously calculated EPDs. Before, GE-EPDs were available only for animals that were genotyped. Given the new way genomic information is included in EPDs (single step), the genotyped animals and their relatives benefit from genomic data.

GE-EPDs, compared to the EPDs of yore, provide a level of prediction accuracy for a nonparent animal that is on par with already knowing the performance of 10 to 20 progeny, depending on the trait in question.

So, the transition to single step increases the accuracy of these GE-EPDs, and the genomic information flows throughout the pedigree, affecting relatives of the genotyped animal as well.

That’s not to say EPDs were inaccurate before. Rather, the advanced methodology provides even greater levels of accuracy.

“We’ve seen the most substantive change to beef cattle evaluation that we’ve seen in decades,” Spangler says. In fact, he likens it to the sea change in genetic evaluation that occurred when EPDs first got their footing in the mid- to late 1980s.

Shifting to single step required new software, lots more computing power and an untold number of changes to how breeds deal with data. Along the way, Spangler explains, breeds took advantage of the transition to update heritability estimates, adjust how they account for selection bias and model particular traits, among other things. These tweaks also added to increased prediction accuracy.

New genetic evaluation’s effects
At the bottom line, EPDs calculated via single step are more accurate. More visible is the fact that the numbers will change more frequently.

With single step, most breed associations conduct genetic evaluation at least weekly, as opposed to a couple of times each year. Although animal rankings are unlikely to change, the raw numbers do.

“Users need to get comfortable with the idea that the EPDs will change more frequently,” Spangler says. He likens it to getting a weather forecast every week, rather than once or twice each year.

As well, the numeric accuracy associated with individual EPDs declined for breeds using BOLT (biometric open language tools) software, according to Jared Decker, Extension beef genetics specialist at the University of Missouri. He explains the EPDs themselves are more accurate, but the ability to measure numeric accuracy directly, rather than approximating it, means lower numeric values.

Breeds using BOLT include Hereford and those that are part of International Genetic Solutions. Moreover, Decker explains some breeds added or revamped selection indexes during the transition to single step.“I continue to point commercial producers toward economic selection indexes that provide a single number to focus on the most important trait, which is profitability,” Decker says.