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Shop for the Right Bull From the Right Place

February 6, 2017

Bull marketing season has started, which means producers are being bombarded with promotional advertising and articles on selecting and valuing bulls, and using genetic/genomic technologies.

To sustain the commercial cattle inventory, producers replace unproductive cows with new females as developed bred heifers. A primary need for some bulls is to produce daughters that are working cows that function well within the resources, management, restraints and economics of the ranch.

“To ensure that these daughters are of the genetic lineage that has the right characteristics, start by sourcing their sires from breeder herds that run their cows the way cows are run at your place,” advises John Dhuyvetter, the North Dakota State University Extension Service’s area livestock systems specialist at the North Central Research Extension Center near Minot.

“Do you expect your cows to graze for seven to eight months, winter on hay and minerals for the most part, and in doing so, maintain flesh and health, breed on schedule and produce a sound marketable calf with little intervention?” he adds. “How might daughters of a bull from a highly supplemented, silage-fed, barn-calved herd with breed-leading numbers for growth, milk and carcass traits stand up in your program?”

Dhuyvetter estimates that by achieving longevity in females, the replacement rate might be minimized to 10 to 12 percent of the herd annually. Theoretically, allowing for some calf losses and culling of heifer calves, less than 40 percent of the herd’s matings need to be to bulls targeted to genetically maternal replacements.

The criteria for bulls siring calves, which all will be terminal cattle, should focus on their market value as feeder cattle, if that’s what producers sell off the ranch, he says. Producers should try to buy bulls from breeders whose cattle have a good reputation in the cattle industry and who have networks that assist in marketing at leading prices.

These bulls’ progeny should be recognized for maintaining calving ease, as well as gain ability and carcass merit. The cattle feeder can pay more for calves that have been managed for high health, gain more than 4 pounds a day, convert feed to gain at 6 or fewer pounds of feed per pound of gain, finish at 1,300 to 1,400 pounds and hit marbling targets for choice or higher-branded beef programs.

The industry, at a basic level, needs a differing focus on bulls for breeding based on the expectations for their progeny, Dhuyvetter notes.

He also has this advice for producers buying bulls whose daughters will be the replacements for their herd:

  • Look for bulls with sound mothers (udder, feet) and that have been in the herd awhile, maintain body condition and have been regular producers.
  • Look for bulls that have been born on their own at a moderate size and have not required any extra treatments or help.
  • Consider moderate-frame bulls that display depth, thickness, large scrotal development and docility.
  • Look for bulls with offspring that have upper-ranking calving ease, stayability and good weaning/maternal index values.

For bulls whose progeny will be sold as feeder cattle and exclusively feedlot-finished for beef, producers should:

  • Buy bulls from breeders and programs that may be recognized for value in their cattle and networked to assist in helping market your calves at prices that reflect their superiority.
  • Look for bulls that, when mated to your cows, will produce feeders that gain and convert feed to gain, finish at heavy market weights and have a high percentage of choice grade.
  • Know your limits for acceptable birth weights and calf size to maintain calving ease.
  • Look for bulls with upper rankings for growth traits, carcass marbling and high beef/feedlot-carcass indexes.

Visit for more information on bull buying.

Source: North Dakota State University