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What's a Good Bull Really Worth?

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For many cow-calf producers, cutting costs has become a matter of survival. But when it comes to the bottom line, lower costs will get you only halfway. You must also increase the performance of and add value to your calf crop to stay competitive. Because 80 percent of herd improvement is directly attributable to bull selection, determining what you can pay for a bull depends on more than finding the lowest price.

Let's compare two Angus bulls, A and B. Their expected progeny differences (EPDs) and the breed average for Angus sires are listed in table 1. If bull A or B sires forty calves (twenty heifers and twenty bulls) from the same cow herd for four consecutive years, how much more can you afford to pay for a bull with better genetics?

Growth trait EPDs are expressed in pounds. If the steer and heifer calves are sold at weaning, what advantage does bull A have over bull B? Bull A has a weaning EPD of +44 pounds; bull B, +24 pounds. You can expect bull A, on average, to sire calves that weigh 20 pounds more at weaning. If 15 percent of the forty calves are kept as replacement females, thirty-four calves multiplied by 20 additional pounds results in 680 pounds of additional weight per year. If these pounds are valued at $90 per hundredweight (cwt), yearly gross sales from calves increases $612 per year. Six hundred and twelve dollars over four years results in $2,448 of increased gross sales from bull A compared with bull B.

Don't overlook extra calf performance obtained by keeping daughters out of bulls with superior genetics. Increased calf performance from maternal influence can originate from increased milk production and growth potential of the cow. One way to compare a sire's ability to transmit milk and growth rate to his daughters is to calculate maternal weaning weight, which is expressed in pounds and is equal to the sire's milk EPD plus one-half of his EPD for weaning. For example, bull A's maternal weaning weight would be one-half of +44 plus +20 or +42 pounds. Bull B's calculated maternal weaning weight would be one-half of +24 plus +10 or +22 pounds. You can expect bull A's daughters, on average, to raise calves that weigh 20 pounds more at weaning than bull B's daughters, assuming they are bred to the same bull.

Consider our example. If twenty-four females, 15 percent of the total calf crop each year, are retained out of sire A and these cows stay in the herd for six years, there will be an extra 2,880 pounds of weaned weight compared with that of bull B's daughters. If this weight is valued at $90 cwt, there will be extra gross sales of $2,592 for sire A's daughters' lifetimes compared with that of sire B's daughters' lifetimes. Increasing weaning weight through increased milk production often increases feed costs to meet additional milk production. Since optimum milk production is different because of differences in environment and nutrition, we recommend that each producer analyze his own requirements and make breeding decisions accordingly. Selection should concentrate on a moderate milk production EPD with an increased weaning weight EPD.

Let's get back to our question. You decide to purchase a bull this spring and identify a particular sale that offers you the most selection. You look at the bulls and narrow the choices to sire A or B. Both are visually appealing and have good pedigrees. You compare each bull's EPDs and find that sire A outperforms sire B on paper. How much more can you afford to pay to purchase sire A? Compared with sire B, sire A should improve this herd's production potential by approximately $5,000 over his lifetime. This example does not necessarily suggest you should pay an extra $5,000 for bull A, but it helps explain why a sire's genetic potential is such an intricate factor in bull selection. Purchasing a bull is a long-term investment that influences your herd's productivity. Consider all the factors when you decide to purchase a bull.