Bull Buying Season Strategies

John F. Grimes, OSU Extension Beef Coordinator

You don’t have to look too hard to figure out that we have entered into bull buying season for cow-calf producers. The current cattle market lends a bit more excitement than usual for the commercial cattlemen looking for the sire of their 2013 calf crop. Agricultural media outlets feature numerous advertisements from seedstock producers touting the advantages of their product and the opportunity to purchase through auction or private treaty. It can be an exciting and stressful time to make selections that can impact the herd and bottom line for years to come.

The selection of a herd sire is one of the very most important management decisions a producer can make. This job has been made easier over the years due to an increase in data available on individual animals. Breed associations have developed strong databases from weights and measurements on animals recorded by breeders. This is the foundation of Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) that measure numerous traits. These EPDs have been enhanced over the years by ultrasound technology and DNA markers that provide greater accuracy.

Herd sire selection should be based on the individual producer’s production system and needs of the cow herd. If you sell your calf crop at weaning, you will want to emphasize higher weaning weight EPDs. If you retain ownership through the feedlot phase, yearling weight and carcass trait EPDs will be a priority. If you are retaining replacement females, closely examine calving ease traits, frame and mature weight, milk, fertility, and stayability EPDs. There are many traits that beef producers must consider in order to achieve profitable production. However, it is easier to make significant genetic progress when you concentrate on traits that impact the priorities for your operation.

Given the current market prices seen for all classes of beef cattle, it is imperative that the cow-calf producer must get as many females bred as possible. There are many factors that can affect conception rates but none may be more important than fertility of the herd sire. Regardless of whether you buy a bull at an auction or private treaty, the producer should not buy a bull unless a Breeding Soundness Evaluation (BSE) has been performed. A veterinarian should perform the BSE within 60 days of the onset of breeding season. Cattle are simply too valuable to guess about the fertility of the herd sire.

Much like the overall trend in cattle numbers and producers across the United States, there are fewer seedstock operations and fewer bulls in the overall supply. I would encourage you not to procrastinate in your search for a herd sire this year. Start your search early to find the sire that fits your specific needs. Early reports from bull sales across the country thus far in 2012 indicates that bulls from reputable sources are bringing significantly higher prices than in previous years.

The average herd in Ohio numbers less than 20 cows and this can require the producer to make some challenging decisions regarding the herd sire and ultimately the entire herd. Herds that are typical in size generally require just one herd sire to meet their needs. In many cases, the sire will be mating both heifers and mature cows in the same pasture. It is very difficult to find an individual herd sire that can adequately meet the calving ease requirements of heifers and the performance potential of mature cows. Even if you can find and afford such a bull, I would strongly encourage the producer to reconsider the wisdom of mating heifers and mature cows in the same pasture.

Many producers simply underutilize a quality herd sire because of the practice of retaining his daughters. After two breeding seasons, a producer that has retained daughters of the bull must either add another sire to service these females (not a practical option with small numbers of replacements), artificially breed the females to proven sires (excellent strategy that is not used enough), or sell the original bull and buy a new bull to avoid inbreeding with the heifers (an unwise decision if the producer is happy with the original bull’s calves).

What can a producer do to maximize the investment in a high quality herd sire? Consider some less traditional strategies when utilizing the bull.

  1. As stated in the previous paragraph, use artificial insemination to breed the daughters of a bull. Keep the daughters that conceive and sell the open heifers as feeders or finish them as market cattle.
  2. Do not keep replacement heifers out of the current sire and purchase bred heifers or young cows for herd additions.
  3. If you desire to keep daughters of your current bull, wait until the 3rd or 4th calf crop to retain his daughters.

Each of these options will allow the producer to keep a quality sire for an extended period of time.

A high quality bull is not an expense but an investment in the future of the herd. The selection of a quality sire is an asset to the herd that can have an impact for years in the future. Producers have a better chance of maximizing their investment if they would treat the bull as an intermediate or long-term asset rather than a short-term asset!