Vet’s voice by Dr. Dave Barz: Choose a bull that will better your program

The recent weather and wind have not deterred most people from attending bull sales in our area. The selection is great and the quality is exceptional. This year offers a real opportunity for commercial producers to purchase animals which can greatly impact the future potential of their herds.

South Dakota and Nebraska are uniquely positioned for production of seedstock. According to a recent article in “Beef,” Beef Seedstock 100, both states and also Montana are home at least fifteen operations marketing at least 200 bulls per year. Operations of this size offer you the producer the opportunity to choose batteries of bulls of similar genetics. Couple that with the large number of smaller purebred producers in the area with animals of similar pedigrees. The opportunity for improvement is great, but the producer must make some important decisions before selecting a bull for the future.

Before selection you must carefully examine the productivity of your herd and decide what you need to improve. If you are keeping your own replacements you will want to watch maternal traits very closely. Most breeds have identified maternal traits with EPDs. Calving ease is important to many producers, but must not be overdone. In several herds in our area we have observed continued use of calving ease on calving ease, resulting in calves with lower weaning and yearling weights. Pounds are still what most commercial producers market, so most prefer to increase them to improve profitability. Terminal crossbreeding producers purchase their replacements from other herds so they worry more about meat traits and pounds rather than maternal, but there are several other characteristics which all bull buyers must consider:

Feet and legs

Without good conformation the bull’s effectiveness during the breeding season can be greatly compromised. Some of these abnormalities are hereditary and may be passed to heifers used for breeding. In terminal crossbreeding these problems are usually marketed before they become a problem. Herd longevity of both cows and bulls is affected by these traits. It is best to view the bulls personally rather than relying on videos and pictures. Many times bedding obscures the hooves and you are unable to carefully examine them.

Phenotypic evaluation

In years past we have all been trained to rely on selecting a bull which we enjoy. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. In the past we only had pedigrees to aid in the selection. Then about thirty years ago we added EPDs to our arsenal of knowledge. In this time of dynamic genetic change many of these don’t have the number of progeny to make these numbers as consistent as needed. Now we have genetic testing to help in the selection process. After all these years of phenotypic selection it is difficult for me and many others to accept the fact ‘it doesn’t matter what they look like, the genetic potential is present.

Purchasing a bull is an important investment in the future of your herd, but you must do your homework:

1. Establish goals for your herd.

2. Decide on the amount of your investment.

3. Select a purebred producer you trust.

4. Ask your purebred producer to help you select bulls which allow you to fulfill the goals of your herd.

5. Examine pedigrees, EPS’s and genetic test results to ensure you purchase the bull you need.

This will enable you to improve the efficiency of your herd and thereby improve your profitability.