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Surviving the Bull Buying Circuit

March 13, 2017

With bull buying season well underway and sale catalogs flooding mailboxes, some producers have yet to pull the trigger and purchase the next herd sire for 2017. This could be for many reasons such as the right bull hasn’t been found yet, price hasn’t been right, or worst case scenario you’re still trying to decide what type of bull is needed. Bull buying is not a one size fits all decision, there are many options to choose from including breed, age, and genetics. In addition, not every bull will meet the needs for each individual operation. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind the goals of the ranch and do some homework before spending all afternoon reading up on each bull in the catalog.

Breed Selection & Production Goals
First, what breed of cattle do you raise? For purebred operations, the decision is rather simple. However, for commercial crossbreeding systems, narrowing down 2 – 3 breeds to use in a rotational breeding system is the first place to start. Once breeds are chosen, this will start to minimize the number of sale catalogs and videos you need to look at.

Next, what type of cattle do you raise? If the goal to raise calves to enter into the feedlot, there is a different bull to target then if the goal is to raise females for the replacement pen. For the feedlot, terminal sires should be sought out, focusing on growth and carcass performance traits. If you purchase a terminal sire, it’s also important to remember that replacement females may need to be purchased, as the terminal heifers might not match the mold of the mature cowherd. On the other hand, sires selected for the goal of raising replacement females should possess maternal traits complementing the mature cowherd. Placing more focus on calving ease, milk and maintenance cost indexes which will be passed down to offspring that are to be retained in the herd.

Once that a breed and focus has been selected, begin by selecting a few EPD’s and indexes that correlate to the type of bull you need. Sort bulls into groups that meet all of your criteria, half or none. Also, setting minimum and maximum targets for specific traits or indexes may be necessary to make sure the bull actually fits in your system and doesn’t exceed your expectations in one area while falling short in the next. For example, if you select for growth year after year, will cow size increase and thus feed intake and resources need to increase also?

Other Considerations
Hopefully by now you have created a manageable list of bulls on paper and now is time to go take a look at the bulls in person or on video. Viewing the bulls prior to sale day will give you more time to look at the bulls and visit with the owner. Share with them the goals of your operation and what you’re looking for in a herd sire. They can give you more information than what is in the catalog such as dam productivity, udder conformation, herd health, etc., which may help sort through the bulls easier. Lastly, phenotype and structurally integrity are important to observe to make sure the bulls will be able to service cows and pass on longevity to the herd.

The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, a bull’s job is to get cows bred. In today’s market, it is time to take an extra look at expenses on the operation and try to minimize losses this year. However, at the same time a high quality bull may come at a cheaper price tag this year than in recent history. Therefore, don’t cut costs on the bull battery, but rather evaluate how the sire will influence the whole economics of the operation. If Sire A increases weaning weight by 20 lbs. compared to Sire B, his return on investment is worth the greater purchase price on sale day. Sire selection plays a large role in the profitability of the cow/calf operation. Take the time to make strategic breeding decisions that will benefit the cowherd, and set yourself up for success this year.

Source: Taylor Grussing, South Dakota State University