Many of our cooperators are cow-calf producers. A common thread among cow-calf producers is that they need bulls. This may be the most critical decision made by cow/calf producers. How do you make this decision? I'll share with you some of the steps I use when making the bull purchase decision.
Step 1. Decide what kind of bull is needed! Study your situation and decide what kind of bull you need to complement your cows and improve your calf crop. Many producers have better cows than they do bulls. Bulls should be used to improve your calf crop. If you have cows that give a lot of milk but lack muscle and growth, you probably need a bull that is strong in these traits.
If you keep replacement heifers, you probably need a bull that will pass along some maternal traits to his daughters. What about calving ease? If you are having problems in this or other areas, address the problem. Many producers ask me "What breed should I buy?" This is a legitimate question. The best answer I know is -it depends. If you have a commercial cow herd and sell your calves off the cow, you should: 1) crossbreed and 2) use a bull that will produce heavy calves.
Step 2. Define characteristics or parameters. This is somewhat covered in step 1, but it should be clearly identified in this step. What is needed in terms of calving ease, weaning weight, yearling weight, milking ability of daughters, carcass traits, mature size, etc.? Many breeds have Expected Progeny Differences (EPD's) for these or similar traits. EPD's are quite simply a measure of what is expected from a calf produced by this animal.
Individual performance data is also very helpful. It shows us what a bull has done and it helps validate or verify EPD's. Breeders that don't have EPD's and performance data are probably not "tending to business." We should realize that performance data and EPD's are not a guarantee of superiority. These are tools for comparison and should help us find the good bulls and help eliminate the inferior ones. EPD's are comparative rather than absolute figures. The table below gives the breed average EPD's for several popular breeds.
You should not compare EPD's from one breed to another. You should compare the EPD's of bulls in the same breed. The example on the next page compares Angus Bulls A and B. We would expect the birth weight of calves from Bull A to be about 5.7 pounds heavier than calves from Bull B when used on a large number of Angus cows of similar type. We would also expect Bull B to produce calves that are 24 pounds heavier at weaning and 39 pounds heavier at one year of age provided other factors are equal. The milk EPD indicates that daughters from Bull A should raise calves that are 9 pounds heavier at weaning (due to heavier milking ability) than calves from daughters sired by Bull B.
Step 3. Visual Appraisal. After you have completed steps 1 and 2 you are ready to look at bulls. You should discipline yourself to only look at bulls that meet with the criteria you established in steps 1 and 2. When looking at bulls you should look for structural soundness and attributes that you need to improve your calf crop. If a bull is structurally sound and physically acceptable you should buy him if he fits within your price range.
Step 4. Price. How much should you pay for a bull? A common question. Let's go back to the example. If Bull B's calves are 24 pounds heavier at weaning, and he produces 25 calves per year, and he is used for 3 years, and the value of added gain is $0.50/pound, then Bull B is worth $900 more than Bull A in terms of added weaning weight. If you pay all this up front, Bull B has no advantage. Perhaps you should pay about one-half of the advantage. Therefore, if you normally would pay $1500 for Bull A, Bull B may be worth $2,000. If you use bulls longer and on more cows, the value is greater.
Hopefully, this discussion will help you if you need to purchase a bull. If you have questions or I can help you in selecting a bull, feel free to contact me or one of the other livestock specialists. Do not wait until the last minute to find a bull. Bulls are selling now. If you need bulls this spring, get busy.
STOCKER OPERATORS: Don't neglect reimplanting "grazeout" cattle. Also, evaluate marketing options and plan ahead. Know what you will do with your cattle before the pasture is gone!