July 2, 2010
Man, was it hot last week! The moisture we had really made it hot and miserable for “little fat boys” like me, but the corn really grew. From the looks of the crops in our area a lot of corn will need to hustle to make “knee-high by the Fourth.” I guess I can sweat if it makes the corn grow.
During the warm weather I took some time to catch up on reading in my air-conditioned office. (Don’t give me too much grief, most of you are in air conditioned tractors, pickups and combines.) I found an article in Drovers about producer trends in bull selection. I’m not sure of the scientific validity of the computer survey, but I think it really points out some interesting trends in bull purchasing and marketing.
As most of you old timers like me know there has been a total shift in cowherd color. Everyone had Hereford or black white faces thirty five years ago. I’m sure 75 percent (or more) of the herds were Hereford-influenced and most of the bull sales were long strings (100 or more) of Hereford bulls. If producers were breeding heifers, they would purchase an Angus bull because of calving ease. I remember most of these Hereford bulls as being halter broke and very docile. You could catch them in the pasture and treat them if needed.
Today it appears about 70 percent of the herds are Angus or Angus based. In our area most of this began as crossbreeding white-faced cows with Angus bulls. As the years passed the base herd became a higher percentage of Angus. In the last 15-20 years other breeds have selected for black hides. This now makes it impossible to distinguish the base breed of many herds. If careful, well-planned decisions were made when selecting bulls, many of these herds will still be optimizing heterosis through crossbreeding. Others may be losing dollars because they are merely breeding for black hides.
When it comes to purchasing a bull most buyers rely heavily on the breeder’s reputation. This proves we buy programs from reputable people while we by animals from anyone. Most producers return to the same breeders year after year and referrals for new buyers come from satisfied producers. Most of my producers rely on appearance when purchasing a bull. You need to look hard at feet and legs to make sure the bull can handle the miles he puts or during breeding season.
The survey suggests the major selection tool for producers is calving ease both for bulls and heifer selection. This trend is easily noted by the effect birth weight has a bull’s price. Many heavy bulls are castrated while others are sold to be used on cows. Some producers go overboard on calving ease and loose valuable pounds at weaning for an easy birth.
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The commercial producers are more concerned about growth because their pay weight is usually at weaning or after a short backgrounding phase. Feedlot traits are usually not as important to the cow-calf man and ultrasound and DNA data may not be well understood by the buyer or appear to offer financial rewards for the producer. Several bull breeders have complained, “I don’t feel I receive any additional dollars for good DNA data, but a good bull is really penalized if the data is below average.”
Every spring we evaluate about 3,000 young bulls for sale. At least 2,500 of these are Angus bulls. The Drover’s survey states the average bull buyer budgets $2,257 for a single bull. Most of the sales we attend average 10-20 percent more dollars than the overall average. Most purebred breeders would like more dollars, but the upper limits may be capped by the market place, except for a few exceptional individual animals. The addition of composite animals has also added to this scenario. They usually sell for less money and offer some of the crossbreeding heterosis.
Whether you are a purebred breeder, commercial owner or feedlot operator the important thing to remember is the fact that reputation is still very important. Establishing business relationships with buyers, sellers, and other producers can only add value to your product. This brings home the point that in all production agriculture we must first sell ourselves.