If it hasn’t happened already, soon your mailboxes and inboxes will be filling up with catalogues for this year’s bull sales. How can you identify which bull is going to work best for your operation? Purchasing the best bull for your operation’s needs starts with good record keeping to identify your operation’s strengths and weaknesses. From there you can work to narrow down your search based on your breeding system, genetic goals and budget. The following tips can help guide you in the process of purchasing your next herd sire.

It’s not one size fits all when it comes to bull buying.

Breeding programs will be determined by operational goals and the management practices that fit those goals. A farm that auctions their calves at weaning may choose a crossbreeding program with high performance, while a farm that direct markets their beef may prefer the uniformity of a single breed.

There are many different types of bulls available, and effective sire selection requires an understanding of the available genetics as well as your own operation. Aiming for complementarity of the bull’s genetics to your current cow herd and fit with your operational goals will contribute to increased revenue and reduced costs.

Each breed of cattle has distinct traits that allow them to excel in different geographical or managerial environments. Depending on the goals of the operation, a sire can be chosen that has the potential to make positive changes for your operation in the areas you’ve identified for improvement. The following article provides more information on the types of breeding systems that may work for your operation. http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/bull-selection-breeding-programs-that-suit-operational-goals/

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Consider both the short-term gain and the long-term investment.

Bull selection is one of the most important decisions for cow-calf producers, with implications for short- and long-term profitability of the operation. The choice of bull can be immediately seen in the subsequent calf crop. If the operation retains heifers and/or bulls, the genetics in the selected bull will be passed down to subsequent generations. Introducing new genetics is a permanent change to the herd, compared to the temporary nature of supplements or management practices. As such, bull selection can be seen as a long-term investment into the operation.

Research in the area of beef cattle genetics has been growing significantly. There are opportunities to improve profitability through sire selection. However, with a multitude of traits, breed differences, operational goals, and management practices, bull selection is a complex decision.

To assist with making bull selection decisions, consistent record keeping will help identify areas of strength and weakness in the herd and guide you towards the type of genetic change you want to see. Over time your records will help monitor whether your changes have made the desired impacts. Once operational goals and breeding programs have been determined a producer can focus in on specific Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) to guide their bull selection. This article looks at how EPDs can be used to improve the traits you require for your operation. http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/bull-selection-what-are-you-looking-for/

Narrow down your search.

Given the plethora of EPDs available, trying to sort through ten or  twenty individual EPDs that may not have relevance to your particular operation can easily lead to information overload, many breed association provide selection indexes that combine multiple traits with relevant weightings in order to combine several traits of interest into one number.  By focusing on Economically Relevant Traits (ERTs), you can eliminate those bits of information that will not directly impact your operation’s profitability. Economically relevant traits are those that are directly associated with a source of revenue, or a cost.  Not all EPDs represent ERTs – instead they use a related (or indicator) trait to estimate the ERT.

One of the best examples is birth weight.  Decreasing a bull’s birth weight by 5 lbs does not have any associated income or costs but is often used as a bull buying criteria in an effort to reduce calving problems.

The actual ERT in this case is calving ease, as an increase in calving problems will reduce calf survival (fewer calves to sell), incurs higher labour costs (pulling calves, or more time spent monitoring), and delays cow rebreeding (younger and lighter calves to sell next year). Birth weight is an indicator trait, and although related to calving ease, birthweight only explains 36-64% of genetic variation between animals in calving ease. This article provides more information about ERTs and how you can narrow your selection focus to the EPDs that matter most for your breeding goals. http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/bull-selection-using-economically-relevant-traits/

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Getting your money’s worth.

Identifying a fair price during sire selection contributes to higher efficiency in operational 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.

The value a bull provides depends on his individual performance, the environment (.g., 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.

A bull’s value is delivered through the calves sired over a lifetime, the long-term genetic change of the herd, and salvage value at the end of a productive life.

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).

Learn more about the bull valuation calculator and to try your own numbers visit the following blog post http://www.beefresearch.ca/blog/bull-selection-new-calculator-to-determine-the-value-of-a-bull/.

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