Category: Bull Guide

Sorting Out the Bull

February 2015

Selecting a bull today can be an overwhelming task for many cow-calf producers. Photo courtesy of Aaron Berger.

The winter and spring bull sale season is well underway. For many cow-calf producers this is when catalogs are studied and sales are attended, with the focus being on the purchase of their next herd sires. The purchase of a bull is a significant investment and represents the genetic future of the calves and in many cases replacement heifers that will go into the cowherd. The following are thoughts on a process that producers can use when planning the purchase of their next sire.

What do you want your cowherd and the calves you produce to do? What genetics will do that?

Clearly identifying goals for what cattle are expected to do and the traits and characteristics that most impact profitability for the cow-calf enterprise is a foundational first step. Are calves sold at weaning, as yearlings, or is ownership retained through until harvest? What do the purchasers of your calves want? Can you produce what they want and have a functional female if replacements are retained? What is an optimum target given the production system cows are expected to operate under? These “big picture” questions should be answered prior to the selection and purchase of a bull.

Where is my cowherd at genetically?

“Wherever you are at, that is where you are.” Randy Hunter, DVM and stocker/yearling operator from Wheatland, Wyoming uses this phrase when teaching cattle handling skills to help people recognize everyone is at a different place in their ability. Once you know where you are, you can identify a plan to move toward where you want to go. This phrase applies well to thinking about the genetics of the cowherd. What is the genetic makeup of the cowherd currently? Are you pleased with where you are? What traits or characteristics would you like to see change? What is the target for where you want to end up? How much change is needed to reach an optimum level given your resources?

Sorting out the bull breeder

Selecting the breeder and breeding program of your next bull is more important than the choosing of the bull himself. The following are characteristics in no particular order that need to be considered when deciding who will be your genetic provider.

  1. Honesty and Integrity
  2. Custmer Service
  3. Genetic Program and Focus
  4. Bull Development Plan
  5. Value Added Opportunities

Sorting through all the information

Selecting a bull today can be an overwhelming task for many cow-calf producers. Bull sale catalogs are full of information, including actual animal performance, ratios, Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs), gene testing, economic indexes, ultrasound measurements, etc. There are also individual breeders who utilize their own scoring system for characteristics such as disposition and udder soundness of a bull’s dam. Having access to all this information is great. However, trying to sort through and discern what these data mean and which information is relevant to what you want can be a bit like trying to get a drink out of a fire hose! What you want is there, but you can find yourself getting smacked in the face with more than you wanted when you go to get it.

Know and understand what the numbers mean

The first priority is to know and understand EPDs. Research has shown EPDs are a tremendous and valuable tool for giving an indication of what a bull’s true breeding value is in terms of the genetics he will pass on to his calves. Understanding what the numbers mean and which ones are relevant for the traits which you are selecting for is important. Matt Spangler, University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Beef Genetics Specialist has put together a NebGuide titled “EPD Basics and Definitions” that explains what these traits mean and how they can be used to compare animals within a breed to one another. In most cases, EPDs are not comparable across breeds. An exception to this is Red Angus and Simmental EPDs which are a multi-breed EPD and are calculated in the same way.

Economic indexes are the second set of numbers to understand. Matt Spangler defines economic indexes as “A collection of EPDs weighted by their economic value such that traits with greater impact on production goals have a larger economic weight associated with them.” Understanding how different economic indexes are calculated for the breed you are evaluating can help you to know if they should be used as a tool for selection.

The third set of numbers to grasp and evaluate is an individual’s own records and performance against those of his contemporaries. These indicate how a bull did in his own right. While worth looking at and evaluating, they are secondary to EPDs for identifying a bull’s true breeding value.

Identify the bulls that meet your “numbers” criteria

Sorting through the bulls on paper and identifying those that meet your criteria is the next step. Plan to do this well in advance of the bull sale so you give yourself adequate time. The more stringent the criteria and the more values you include, the fewer bulls you will have to pick from.

Visually appraise bulls for structural soundness and phenotype

While a bull may look good on paper, when you actually see him, he may not be the type and kind that you want. Remember that this bull’s purpose in life is to get cows pregnant. That means he has to be able to move and cover cows.

Get the breeder’s opinion

A solid seed stock supplier should be a tremendous resource for you in selecting your next sire. Communicate to them what you want and ask what bulls they recommend. See if the bulls you have identified are ones they believe will meet your goals.

Set a budget and give yourself options

Bull sales can be fast moving events. Know ahead of time what you are willing to spend. Identify your options in terms of bulls you will consider. If the bulls you want quickly blow by your limit, you want to have evaluated if there are others in the offering that still meet your criteria.

Conclusion

Selecting your next herd sires is an important event. Being well prepared can help to ensure that the bull you pick takes your herd genetically the direction that you want to go. An excellent resource that further discusses preparing to purchase your next herd sire is the “Rancher’s Guide to Profit”. This set of videos prepared by the Red Angus Association is available at their website.

Aaron Berger
Nebraska Extension Educator

EPDs Work Management Perspectives: No hype

Management Perspectives: No hype: EPDs work
As EPDs and other breeding tools get more complicated, some ranchers have returned to the “tradition” of just looking at animals to determine their genetic worth. DON’T. EPDs work.

Due to objective genetic predictions such as EPDs (expected progeny differences) and indexes, the cattle industry has made tremendous progress in production and efficiency. However, as the models that produce the predictions become more sophisticated and producers understand less of the mathematics behind them, some people are turning off from the technology.

This is a problem because, although calculation of modern genetic predictions have become complicated, the precision and reliability of the EPDs has likewise improved.

An EPD is defined as the difference in expected performance of future progeny of an individual, compared with expected performance at some base point for the population. EPDs are estimated from phenotypic and genomic merit of an individual and all its relatives. They are generally reported in units of measurement for the trait (e.g., lb., cm., etc.). EPDs are best used for comparing the relative genetic transmission differences to progeny between individuals.

What it boils down to is EPDs let a producer sort out genetic differences between animals, eliminating the “noise” of the environment. Some producers think they can do this better with their eyes or just a simple set of scales. This has been soundly proven wrong. The most glaring example of this occurred in Red Angus.

The breed was founded based on performance principles in 1954 with performance reporting as a requirement for registration from the very beginning. Although all Red Angus breeders had weights and measures from the beginning, the breed made no genetic progress for over 20 years. That all changed when it began converting this data into information in the form of EPDs. Since the breed started calculating EPDs, the genetic trend for traits measured has improved linearly.

 
Red Angus also studied the phenotypes for various traits and how they compared to the genetic predictions of the population. An example is weaning weight EPDs, which have been increasing linearly. This lines up perfectly with the breed’s adjusted weaning weights, which have improved at the same rate as the EPDs. EPDs have also allowed the breed to beat genetic antagonisms like increasing weaning weights without increasing birth weight.

Indexes are an even more powerful tool for genetic improvement. Certified Angus Beef studied when cows were flushed to either low or high $B ($Beef terminal index) bulls and all progeny were fed out and harvested. The progeny out of the high $B bulls were significantly better for all input traits into the index including weight per day of age, age at harvest, carcass weight, quality grade, and yield grade. The progeny of the high $B sires had $48.65 lower feedlot production costs and produced carcasses with $166.82 more value for a total financial benefit of $215.47.

The prediction models have also been proven to be unbiased. Cornell University did a retrospective study of the American Simmental Association’s cattle by going back and adding two years of data at a time. They then observed the differences in how cattle’s genetic predictions changed as they went from pedigree estimates through being proven sires. Animals changed up and down as the possible change chart indicated they would, as more information was added to the genetic predictions. They equally moved either up or down demonstrating no bias in the model producing the genetic predictions. If the model was biased, the predictions would tend to move in only one direction.

The basic input into genetic predictions is contemporary group deviations, and the models assume there is no environment by genotype interaction. Cornell also studied this in the Simmental population, and the assumption was validated as true.

That the models have been improving over time only makes the genetic predictions and indexes even that much more valuable.

Genetic predictions using field data were first introduced to the industry with the 1971 Simmental Sire Summary, but those early models were fraught with problems. The early models were based on sires and all dams were assumed to have equal genetic merit, which of course is not correct.

Early models also didn’t account for mating bias. The most common case of mating bias occurs when high-priced artificial insemination sires are only mated to producers’ top cows, so accounting for this bias is important. Over time, these and many more problems have been eliminated. However, with these improvements, the models have become ever more complicated and more of a challenge for the layperson to understand how they work.

This brings us to today’s modern genomic models, which are light years better than the old models, but the complicated statistics that go into the genetic predictions are admittedly hard to understand. The goal of the genetic predictions has always been to sort out what is genetic—thus will be transmitted to progeny—from what is due to environment. Marker-assisted selection is the ultimate way to determine genetic value because, by definition, genomics are not influenced by environment.

Adding genomics to traditional information that goes into genetic predictions—like contemporary group deviations, heritability, and trait correlations—all adds up to predictions that are more precise and reliable. They do a much better job of establishing genetic relationship between animals, as well as identifying markers associated with causative genes, all to improve accuracy of genetic predictions.

The whole goal to animal breeding is to improve cattle genetically. This means different things to different people—some are looking to optimize genetics to their environments while others are looking to maximize the genetic potential for traits.

Whatever a producer’s goal, EPDs and indexes are the best way to achieve it. Today’s prediction models do an unprecedented job of removing all the noise from EPDs and indexes, allowing producers to make the most informed genetic selection decisions possible.

It has been demonstrated time and again that visual evaluation and simple weights and measures are inferior substitutes for modern genetic prediction. Those who ignore objective genetic predictions do so at the long-term peril of their business’ ability to compete.

Performance pioneer Don Vaniman summed it up nicely in 1978 when he wrote, “Is it those who feel cattle that look good must perform, or those who accept that animals that perform look good?” — Dr. Bob Hough, WLJ correspondent

Dr. Bob Hough is the retired executive vice president of the Red Angus Association of America and a freelance writer.

Bull Selection: New Calculator To Determine The Value Of A Bull

Editor’s note: The following is part four of a four-part series that helps you to evaluate different breeding programs, which bulls are optimal for your herd, and how much they’re worth. (See part onepart two and part three).


Different traits of bulls can contribute to different impacts on the bottom line of the operation. For example, a bull with a higher calving ease EPD may contribute to more live calves. Not surprisingly, bulls with higher calving ease (or lower birth weights) sell for a higher price (Simms et al., 1997). With the large variation in bulls available, bull prices extend over a wide range from $3,000 to over $20,000 per head.

Identifying a fair price during sire selection contributes to higher efficiency in operation economics. To estimate breakeven bull price, a bull valuation calculator has been developed. The purpose is to provide a general idea of how much a bull is worth based on key farm parameters.

Bull Values – two Scenarios

The value a bull provides depends on his individual performance, the environment (ex: pasture productivity), management (cow:bull ratio) and markets (calf price). For example, large framed bulls require more feed, leading to a higher maintenance cost, but that may be offset by heavier calves at sale time.

Two scenarios were studied – a low maintenance farm versus a high maintenance farm. Table 1 shows the parameters entered for each farm. The default values in the calculator are the averages of the two scenarios.

The low maintenance farm is assumed to have a larger pasture size reducing the cow to bull ratio, multiple bulls in a field with potential for fighting as well as rough terrain contributing to reduced bull longevity, and reduced feeding costs over fewer days, resulting in lower maintenance costs. This management style is reflected in the cow herd as well with a lower weaning rate and lower weaning weights.

The high maintenance farm is assumed to have smaller breeding pastures, more labour, and more feed, which leads to a higher cow to bull ratio, greater longevity, higher weaning rates, and higher weaning weights.

Despite keeping key parameters constant like the proportion of the calf value attributed to the bull and expected calf price, there is a large variation in bull value between the two farm scenarios (Table 2).

The high maintenance farm has a breakeven bull price more than double that of the low maintenance farm. In fact, the low maintenance farm would have had a much lower breakeven price if the annual maintenance cost was similar to the high maintenance farm. However, the lower annual maintenance cost helped to offset the lower cow to bull ratio and lower weaning rate.

For the high maintenance farm, the producer can afford to pay more for a bull given the expected performance of both the bull and its offspring. The large variation in bull prices on the market reflects the different abilities of the bull to bring value to an operation. This is impacted not only by the bull but also the environment and management system used by differing operations.

Driving Factors of Bull Price

The value a bull provides is in the calves sired over a lifetime, the long-term genetic change of the herd, and salvage value at the end of a productive life. (As long-term genetic change is not readily measurable by producers, this parameter was excluded from the calculator.)

The value provided depends on:

  • cost factors (i.e., bull maintenance cost and death loss),
  • performance factors (i.e., years of service, the expected cow to bull ratio, expected weaning rate, expected weight of feeders, and proportion of the calf value attributed to the bull), and
  • price factors (i.e., expected price of feeders and salvage value).

 

 

 

 

**Download the Excel calculator here**

Note: this calculator is currently available in Excel only. A web option will be developed in the near future. 

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Burke Teichert’s top 5 tips on bull selection

Burke Teichert | Oct 06, 2016

Last month I talked about culling the right cow.You should cull cows to keep your herd cleaned up and managerially efficient. This minimizes the time required for doctoring, calving problems, taking care of the wild ones and the labor requirement for a strung out calving season. It also reduces the number of animals that are hard to market. In the process, you will also have a positive effect on herd fertility, health and adaptation to your management and environment.

Bull selection can result in rapid change. However, change may not always result in progress or improvement. In fact, I will suggest that a lot of our so-called “improvement” in cattle growth rates has been more than offset by reductions in stocking rates, conception rates and herd health.

The result has been more time spent doctoring cattle, lower conception rates and/or higher feed bills, and fewer pounds produced per acre. Because the calves that are produced are bigger, they bring less per pound. Therefore, we now sell fewer pounds per acre at a lower price per pound.

We are now seeing research on this. In only one case have I seen calf weaning weights higher as cow size decreases. Usually calf weights decrease as cow size decreases, but not proportionally.  So, when stocking rates are adjusted to fit cow size, enough more cows can be run that, in spite of lighter calves, more pounds are weaned per acre.

On many ranches, the number one determinant of profit is the ratio of grazed feed to fed feed.  Once you have gotten over doing a lot of feeding, stocking rate becomes the number one determinant of profit; and stocking rate is determined by cow size and milking ability along with grazing and pasture management. Next comes herd fertility. Then, in a group, come marketing, cows per person ratio and herd health problems.

Therefore, let’s take all of that into consideration as we make bull selections. Here are five tips:

  1.  Cull the right cow: Why would I want to buy a bull born to a cow that I would have culled at my ranch? Go through your cull criteria and ask if the mother of “that” bull would still be in your herd. I firmly believe that, if you have reduced feeding to the bare minimum, have selected good, moderate-sized bulls and have culled cows as I described last month, you have some very good cows. Those are the kind of cows that should be mothers of bulls.
  2.  Size and milking ability: If you want cows that can graze most of the year and get pregnant early in the breeding season, and if you want to wean more pounds per acre by running more smaller cows with less milking ability, you will want to select bulls with less mature size and lower milk EPDs.

    I’m sure there is room for some difference of opinion here, but to maximize pounds produced per acre and at the same time keep supplemental feed cost at a minimum, I want cows to be as small as they can be and still produce a feeder calf that will be acceptable at the market place.

    I know the feeder and packer seem to want them bigger and bigger. But you need to stay in business first. There is information indicating that producers are using bulls with higher and higher EPDs for milk and for weaning and yearling weight. But actual weaning weights on the ranches have not changed in recent years. However, cow size has.

    If your attempts to produce bigger and bigger calves are robbing you of conception rate and good herd health, are costing you more in feed cost and supplementation and reducing your stocking rate, you should reconsider your breeding priorities.

  3.  Heterosis: Carcass traits are quite highly heritable. Growth traits are moderately heritable. Milk is less heritable and fertility, health and longevity are considered to be the least heritable.

    But, because carcass traits are highly heritable, they don’t respond much to heterosis while other traits do. The rest of the traits respond, with the more highly heritable having a smaller response and the less heritable having a greater response to heterosis. Optimum heterosis is most likely different for each situation, but I want a significant level of heterosis in every cow.

    Heterosis will significantly enhance fertility and health while slightly increasing milk and growth. You can’t expect selection to do what heterosis does nor vice versa.Parenthetically, I think that some aspects of fertility—first cycle conception as a yearling and calving interval—are more highly heritable than heritability estimates would suggest.

  4. Disposition: As an industry, we have made great progress across many breeds on disposition. I think every bull should be carefully scrutinized for disposition. It is refreshing and encouraging to see herds of cows in breeds with reputations of poor disposition that have wonderful dispositions.

  5.  Growth and carcass: Improving growth rates and carcass traits is desirable as long as the negative consequences don’t overbalance the positives. When you make sure that the bulls you purchase will produce the kinds of cows you want, you then need to move carefully and cautiously to get the desired results without undoing much of the good you have accomplished.

    I think it can be done, but carefully and slowly. Genomics and heterosis, if they can become compatible, could help move growth and carcass forward faster without undoing progress in the other traits. Currently, a number of genomic tests only validate in high percentage Angus cattle. When those tests are valid across a number of breeds and crosses, much progress could be made.

Perhaps the best breeding decision a commercial producer will ever make is the choice of a seedstock provider. Find someone whose breeding objectives mirror your own, who operates in an environment similar to yours, who can help you benefit from heterosis and can understand your objectives and help you select the right bull.

P.S.—I continue to maintain that about 40% of the cows in America should be bred to terminal-cross bulls. Producers choosing that option should buy cows (not heifers) from producers who cull cows and select bulls as I have described. They should then select bulls with high growth and carcass EPDs for use on those cows—not the moderate EPDs that I have suggested in this article for those producing replacements.

 

Burke Teichert, a consultant on strategic planning for ranches, retired in 2010 as vice president and general manager of AgReserves, Inc. He resides in Orem, Utah. Contact him at burketei@comcast.net.

Extension / Publications / Bull Buyer’s Guide

Never underestimate the power of your bull. Selecting and purchasing a bull for your beef herd could be considered one of the most important decisions you make in your operation. Don’t make a quick, unprepared decision on purchasing a bull. Never consider purchasing a bull without a proven record and a sound genetic background. Using a bull with poor performance and a weak genetic base could delay improvements in your herd for several years. The small expense you have in purchasing a bull is the difference between the purchase price of the new bull and the salvage value of the old bull (see Example 1). This investment will add efficiency and profitability to your herd for years to come.

Example 1. Cost of a bull purchase

 

$3000 Purchase Price of New Bull
-2090 Salvage Value of Old Bull (1900 lbs. X 1.10/lb.)
$ 910 Net Cost of New Bull

If the new bull sires 90 calves over the next 3-5 years, $910 ÷ 90 = $10.11 cost/ calf. If the bull sires 90 calves that are 10 pounds heavier at weaning and they sell for $1.09/lb. (3-year average for 500-pound calves ? GA Auction Markets, 2009-2011) at weaning, you will have paid for the bull.

The cost of purchasing a bull may seem high at a glance; however, that expense becomes relatively small when it is spread across your bull?s calf crop for a three- to five-year period. Example 1 shows how you can turn an expense into a savings. Bull procurement decisions can greatly impact your future calf crops and herd genetics for many years. When you consider that the bull contributes one-half of the genetic makeup of your calf crop and may sire 25 to 40 or more calves per year, it is easy to see that he is the most important individual in the herd. Keep in mind that a bull that will improve a herd must have genetic superiority over both the cows in the herd and over pervious bulls.

The best way to remain efficient in today’s beef industry is continue to produce more pounds of product per cow exposed. That task can become hard to achieve without the help of a superior bull. Fortunately, weight at various ages is heritable. Birth weight and weaning weight are estimated to be about 30 percent heritable, while yearling weight is about 45 percent heritable. This means that a certain degree of birth weight, weaning weight and yearling weight is inherited from the parents and that progress can be made by selecting for these traits.

Selection Tools

Birth, weaning and yearling weights are normally used to evaluate breeding animals. Actual or adjusted weights may help in making comparisons between bulls in the same contemporary group (a group of animals from the same herd, year and season that is raised together under the same conditions). Since environmental factors like feed and weather affect weights, actual or adjusted weight can be misleading if bulls come from different contemporary groups. Within a herd, weight ratios help account for some of the environmental differences between contemporary groups. But, ratios can also be misleading if bulls come from different herds. Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs), on the other hand, are calculated across herds. A bull’s EPD for a trait is a more accurate estimate of his genetic worth than his weight, adjusted weight or ratio. EPDs not only account for contemporary group and herd differences, they also include information on a bull?s relatives as well as his individual performance. Breed associations report EPDs on weights and many other traits.

Most major breed associations have National Cattle Evaluation programs. Breeders who are involved in their breed’s performance program should have birth, weaning and yearling weight EPDs available on yearling bulls. In all of these breeds, weight EPDs are expressed in pounds of calf. For example, if bull A has a weaning weight EPD of +45 and bull B has a weaning weight EPD of +35, the calves produced by bull A are expected to weigh, on the average, 10 pounds more at weaning than those of bull B, assuming the bulls are bred to comparable cows.

Advances in National Cattle Evaluation have made estimating a bull’s genetic worth more accurate than ever before. EPDs allow valid comparisons of all bulls of the same breed, but they do not allow comparison of bulls from different breeds. Since breeds have different average performance, base years and evaluation procedures, direct comparison of EPDs from different breeds can be extremely misleading. It should also be noted that a bull with an EPD of zero is rarely average. In most breeds, zero is the average of some base group of animals. Since breeds change over time, in some breeds it is possible to find bulls with positive weaning and yearling weight EPDs that are several pounds below the average of all yearling bulls in that breed. Current breed averages and information on how to use EPDs are included in breed association sire summaries, which are available on most major breed association websites.

Accuracy Values (ACC) are usually published with EPDs. The accuracy values indicate the reliability of the EPD, or how likely the EPD is to change as more information becomes available. Accuracies are usually expressed as correlations ranging from zero to one. The closer the accuracy is to one, the more reliable the EPD is. Yearling bulls normally have low accuracy values. Older AI sires can have very high accuracies.

Recommended Performance Standards

Weaning Weight ? Yearling Weight

Commercial producers are paid for pounds of calf. Two very important traits to consider are weaning and yearling weights. However, single trait selection may result in problems with other traits. A good example is selecting for yearling weight alone, which results in increased birth weight because the two traits are genetically correlated. Select bulls that have an excellent combination of performance EPDs that are at or near the bulls’ breed average. Desired genetic improvement involves a combination of several traits, including weaning and yearling weights.

Milk Production

Maternal ability within a breed can best be evaluated with milk EPDs; however, milk is not measured directly in beef cattle performance programs. It is measured in terms of how it affects weaning weight. Milk EPD on a bull is an estimate of pounds of calf at weaning produced by the bull’s daughter due to her milking ability. For example, if bull A has a milk EPD of +5 and bull B has a milk EPD of +2, all other things being equal, bull A’s daughters should produce calves that wean 3 pounds heavier than those from daughters of bull B due to extra milk production. There is some variation in the terminology used by different breed associations in reporting maternal EPDs. An explanation of maternal EPDs is included in a breed’s sire summary.

Producing extra milk requires that a cow consumes extra protein and energy. High milk production can affect a cow’s ability to breed back after calving. For this reason, selecting for maximum milk production is not a good idea in most commercial herds.

Conformation

The cattle industry produces cattle of all breeds, sizes, ages and quality. There is a market for all of them. However, if you sell feeder calves or feed out your own cattle, consider the following points:

  • Good quality cattle eat no more feed than low quality cattle and are just as efficient at converting feed to beef.
  • Bulls should generally have a muscling score of one and be medium plus to large minus framed, according to the USDA feeder calf standards (Table 1). Such calves will bring a higher price than lower grade calves.
  • Low quality cattle with poor conformation usually are more subject to price declines in years of over production than are high quality cattle. Small framed cattle mature early and are slow, inefficient gainers if fed past maturity.

Frame Score

Hip height in inches is used to give an indication of frame size. Most bull test stations and a large percentage of purebred breeders will have a yearling hip height for each animal. Table 1 gives the ranges of hip height as they relate to mature frame size. Remember, taller cattle do not necessarily grow faster or more efficiently, but they do have a later maturity pattern. Small-framed cattle are discounted in Georgia markets. A bull needs to have enough frame to produce calves that are at least USDA Medium.

Table 1. Hip height relative to mature frame size

 

USDA Frame
Small Medium Large
Frame score 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
7-month hip height (in) 36 38 40 42 44 46 48
12-month hip height (in) 41 43 45 47 49 51 53
Potential slaughter weight 800 900 1000 1100 1200 1300 1350+

Birth Weight

First calf heifers have the most calving problems, so buying a bull with a low birth weight EPD is extremely important when the bull is to be used on heifers. Birth weight is the single most important trait that influences calving difficulty. While many cattlemen look at actual birth weights on bulls, birth weight EPDs are the most accurate measure of a bull?s potential calving ease.

Many breeds report Calving Ease EPDs that are calculated using birth weight and calving scores. These can also be helpful in selecting bulls. Refer to the breed association?s sire summary for a description of how these are reported for a particular breed.

Scrotal Circumference

Research indicates that yearling bulls with large testicles sire daughters that show estrus at an earlier age than bulls with smaller testicles. Be sure the bull you select has a scrotal circumference that is at least 30 cm at 1 year of age.

Physical and Semen Evaluation

If the bull you are considering buying is 12 months or older ask for a physical and semen examination. This can be done by the local veterinarian and will increase your confidence that the bull will be able to settle cows.

Other Traits

Breed associations report EPDs for many other traits and this large volume of information can be overwhelming to the bull buyer, so focus on the basics listed above. You do not have to understand every aspect to be able to select a good commercial bull. When you become comfortable with the basics, consult the breed association website for updates on the most recent developments.

How Much “Bull-Power” Do I Need?

Several factors can help determine the number of cows that can be bred to one bull.

Age

The number of cows per bull will vary with the bull’s age, condition and libido. Use an adequate number of bulls with good libidos. Bulls should be in good body condition, but not fat, at the beginning of the breeding season. Young, growing bulls may require extra feed during the breeding season to meet their protein and energy needs. A yearling bull should not be expected to breed more than 20 to 25 cows, while a mature bull with large testicles, good semen and good libido can breed 25 to 40 or more cows.

Condition

You cannot expect fat or thin bulls to perform up to the standards of properly conditioned bulls. Poor nutrition can influence semen quality. Fat bulls lack the stamina to breed enough cows.

Length of Breeding Season

Length of the calving season and number of calves born during each 21 day period of the calving season does have some influence on the number of cows that can be bred to one bull. Mature bulls can breed up to 40 cows during a 60- to 90-day breeding period and sire a high percentage of these calves in the first 40 days of the calving season. If cows are run in large groups, two bulls that are the same age and breed could run with 80 cows.

Breeding Systems

An artificial insemination (AI) program will not require as many bulls, but the quality of the bulls turned out after the AI period needs to be very high to ensure against poorer quality calves than the AI sired calves. Have a short AI program, no longer than 40 days, and then turn out the cleanup bulls.

Other Factors to Consider when Buying a Bull

  • The bull you buy should be functionally sound — a good breeder with a long life ahead — and he should be structurally correct, with sound feet and legs and strong pasterns.
  • The bull should not have swollen joints and should be able to move freely and easily.
  • The bull should not be extremely nervous. A bull with a mean disposition is difficult to handle and he may pass on his nervousness to his offspring.

Be sure you do not buy disease when you buy a bull. Request a copy of the bull’s health record. Place new bulls in an isolation paddock where you can observe them for 30 days before putting them with the herd.

Where to Buy a Bull

Many top cattlemen think where to buy a bull is the most important choice involved in their purchase. You need to know that records of birth dates, rate of gain, weaning weights and health conditions of a bull are just as the seller says. You need to know that the breeder will live up to his responsibilities. It has been said that records and pedigrees are as good or as poor as the integrity of the breeder. Here are some recommendations:

  • Buy from a breeder whose integrity is above reproach.
  • Buy from someone who has complete performance records on his cattle, and knows what those records mean.
  • Buy from a place where you know the type of management under which the bulls were produced.
  • Buy bulls from central test stations where all records are available.
  • Buy bulls from performance oriented producer sales.
  • Buy bulls from breed association sponsored sales.

Using Artificial Insemination

Artificial insemination increases your chances of promoting the important traits. Since many of the bulls in the AI studs have a great number of progeny with performance records, you can predict more accurately what their calves’ performances will be in your herd. AI services also screen their bulls closely for any undesirable traits.

Whether you breed your cows by AI or not is a decision you must make based on your own labor and management situation. However, you can consider AI as one method of “buying a bull.”

Selecting a Bull for Crossbreeding

It is just as important to select bulls for a crossbreeding program based on traits that are heritable as it is for other breeding systems. You can improve your herd by careful selection and produce hybrid vigor at the same time.

Determining a Bull’s Worth

It is very difficult to predict the dollar value of a particular bull; however, the following factors can affect a bull’s value:

  • The number of calves the bull may sire.
  • The performance level of the herd on which the bull is to be used. Almost any good bull will improve the performance of a poor herd, while only very superior bulls can help a high performing herd.
  • The type of breeding system you select. Purebred breeders can usually justify a higher bull investment than can commercial producers.

Summary

Selecting and buying a herd bull is the quickest way to make genetic improvement in your herd. The selection process must include looking for those traits that are economically important and highly heritable. Your own herd records are necessary if you are to select a bull that will improve your genetic base. Demand and buy bulls with total performance that will improve your herd.


Status and Revision History
Published on Jul 01, 1994
In Review on Feb 03, 2009
In Review for Major Revisions on Feb 03, 2009
Unpublished/Removed on Jul 03, 2012
Published with Minor Revisions on Jul 25, 2012
Published with Full Review on Mar 31, 2017

Bull Buyer’s Guide: Beef2Live.com

Are you sifting through stacks of bull sale catalogs looking for your next bull? While bull selection can be a daunting task, your choice will impact your herd for years to come. Thus, taking some time to think about what you need from your next herd sire is important.

Here are some points to emphasize when it comes to bull selection.

Know your market. Understand what traits are value added-traits for your market. One of the best parts about the cattle industry is the different ways producers achieve their goals. While selling calves at weaning into the commodity market is the majority, some cattlemen are marketing in very creative ways. Local freezer beef, retained ownership, alliances, branded beef programs, video sales, or fitting the production environment to a consumer demanded practice are all ways farmers are adding value to their calves. Your bull selection should be based on traits that are profitable in your market.

Don’t sacrifice functional traits or adaptability to your production environment. It is really easy to get caught up in the data, but remember these critters need to be sound and function in the pasture. Good feet and legs, a strong libido, and docility are all imperative. Masculinity, big testicles, and a tight sheath are good phenotypic indicators of the right kind. Buying bulls that are raised in similar conditions to your farm is preferred. You can buy someone else’s genetics, but you can’t buy their management.

Require a passed BSE (Breeding Soundness Exam) and farm herd health protocols. I also suggest a quarantine period for new purchases. A minimum of two weeks will allow time for potential pathagens to break without exposing your herd. Lots of times cattle coming from a sale have experienced elevated stress. It is important to keep them on good feed, in a clean pen, and allow the quarantine period to run its course.

Identify and understand Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) and phenotypes that signify value added traits you are seeking. Calving ease (CE) is an important and valuable trait. Sometimes when talking to producers I hear them stressing CE and birth weight (BW). BW is an indicator trait for CE, but you don’t get paid for light birth weight calves. You get paid by not having to invest time and labor in pulling calves. So, avoid putting too much downward pressure on BW, especially if the bull will breed cows. Another mistake I see is purchasing low BW bulls for cows. This is not necessary. Many times you can purchase a bull with average or better calving ease for cows at a discount to “heifer bulls” with comparable growth. Smooth, flat shouldered bulls with decent CE EPDs are good value bulls for breeding mature cows.

If you sell your calves at weaning through the salebarn and keep your own replacements, traits of priority should be CE, heifer pregnancy, stayability, and weaning weight. Selecting for more yearling weight, too much milk or too little milk, or cacarss traits are much less important in this scenerio. If you retain-ownership in you cattle through the feedlot and market to the packer, then yearling weight and carcass traits become more relevant to your bottom line. Your ultimate goal should be to produce the most profitable product, thus seek traits that add value without increasing cost of production over the value of the trait.

Utilize appropriate multiple trait selection indexes. Find the sweet spot/ profitable window in milk, YW, and carcass EPDs. Avoid putting too much emphasis on one trait. Nearly all breeds now have dollar index values that help put economics to trait selection. These can be extremely effective tools if the index scenario matches your operation. Weaned Calf Value ($W) is a dollar value used by the Angus breed. It is an index that is designed for cattlemen that primarily sell calves at weaning. This index also assumes that replacement heifers are retained. EPDs for birth weight, weaning weight, milk, and mature cow size are focused on. Lower birth weights, heavier weaning weights, and lower mature cow size are desirable. Milk production is weighted both positively and negatively as it directly impacts calf weaning weights, but also increases cow maintenance requirements. A more detailed description of economic selection indexes is available on my blog

Don’t be fooled by index names. Beef Value ($B) is a terminal index. It is a great tool for cattlemen that are not keeping replacements. This index will increase profitability of cattle in the feedlot and on the grid. Unfortunately, I have heard $B referred to as a comprehensive EPD several times which it is not. It is vital to understand that $B is a terminal index. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The breeder or an Extension specialist will be able to help explain the numbers.

Demand higher accuracy for traits. Technologies are available for seedstock producers to increase the accuracy of EPDs on yearling bulls. Genomic-enhanced EPDs result in less risk, less change, and more predictability in how a yearling bull will sire. A bull buyer can feel more confident now than ever in EPDs when they are backed by genomic testing.

Heterosis. Crossbreeding systems are hard to deploy and maintain in small herds. However, leaving hybrid vigor on the table in a commercial herd is a big loss. Otherwise lowly heritable traits like reproduction, health, and cow longevity are best improved by crossbreeding. Crossbred cows and maternal heterosis is a key to profitability on commercial cow/calf operations. Studies have shown net profit per cow is increased by $75/cow/year as a result of maternal heterosis.

Buy the right size, type, and demand quality. I would compare this to buying a car or truck. If you have little money for gas (feed), then don’t buy a gas (feed) guzzler. Buy a bull that fits your cow herd. Your cows will tell you the right size and milk production for your management. If they come up open… they are not the right size. Now, you also want a bull that is the right type. You don’t buy a fancy sports car for a work vehicle do you? So why buy a fancy, sexy bull to produce working kind cattle? To me there is a difference in fancy and quality. I suggest you demand quality. Select a product that will last and hold value. Look for signs that the breeder stands behind their product. That is a good sign of quality.

Seek value when buying a bull. The lowest priced bull is seldom the best valued. If you find a bull that has the traits you are looking for… buy him. Set a budget, but understand it is often hard to find everything you are looking for. Bulls with the traits you are seeking can add value to your cattle in a hurry. They can add far more value than a cow. The bull you buy this year will impact your herd for the next 5 years with his calves, but his daughters will impact your herd for the next 20 years. Make a good investment. Buy a bull that adds value to your calves and your cowherd.

Written by Travis Meteer, Extension Educator, Commercial Ag, University of Illinois, and used with permission.

Find the Right BULL