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When Opportunity Knocks, What Will You Do?

Posted Dec. 1, 2002

Opportunities too often seem few and far between. Some say opportunities are a whole lot like luck you have to make your own. Regardless of how you feel, opportunities present themselves, and I'm sure most of you have heard (and maybe even used) clich's about capitalizing on them when they do. I like the more direct (those of you who know me understand why) approach my mom used to take when she would say, "You better have a 'dang' good reason why you don't take advantage of an opportunity, because it may not come around again." It's amazing how my parents have gotten smarter as I have gotten older.

Fortunately, the opportunity I will be referring to is not one of those that only comes around once in a lifetime. In fact, this opportunity can actually come around every year and sometimes more. The only prerequisite to capitalizing on this opportunity is having the foresight to know that you are going to be purchasing a bull six months before you actually need him.

I'm not telling anybody anything when I say yearling bulls bring less money than 2-year-olds. This has been the case in just about every bull sale I have attended. What has changed over the years is our ability to adopt and implement new technology, most notably artificial insemination (AI) and embryo transfer (ET). These practices are resulting in an increased number of half-sib and full-sib bulls being sold during the same sale. In many instances, these related animals are a product of the same flush and/or AI event and therefore are the same age. However, for various reasons, I am starting to see more and more age differences between related animals during the same sale. Whatever the reasons behind this occurrence, it is resulting in situations where buyers are filling their orders early in the sale with 2-year-olds and oftentimes leaving younger bulls with similar genetics relatively unnoticed.

For example, I was at a bull sale last month with a producer who was going to need at least four bulls for next year's (spring) breeding season. Due to proper management and timely rain, he had put up some very high-quality (18% CP, 66% TDN) bermuda hay, had ample amounts of it and had some volunteer winter pasture for contingent purposes. The situation was ideal to buy and develop a younger bull, rather than pay somebody else to do it by buying an older bull next spring.

After the sale was over, the producer and I were very happy, excited and surprised. We bought five bulls (he bought a 2-year-old for insurance purposes) for an average price of around $1,700. You might say that is pretty costly, but it is important to note that we were only buying bulls that had expected progeny differences (EPD), within this particular breed, in the top 20 percent for weaning weight and yearling weight with at least an average value for birth weight. The average age on the four yearling bulls was about 15 months, meaning that by turnout these bulls will be pushing two years of age and will be more than ready to do their jobs.

I have a feeling some of you may be saying "Oh yeah, what about the feed that will be put through those yearling calves to get them through winter?" This point is valid and needs to be considered when deciding on whether to take advantage of this "opportunity." In this particular situation, with the feed resources already available, we estimate that about $75/ head would be spent developing these bulls. In comparison, from the figures I wrote down, most of the older bulls with the same performance numbers cost about $4,500 (you can buy a lot of feed for the difference).

As an example, I've included a comparison between two half-sib bulls that were actually sold at this particular sale (Table 1). I realize many unexplainable things can occur at an auction, which can result in a particular animal bringing an exorbitant amount of money. I also realize that a cattle producer can only spend so much for a bull that is going to settle commercial females. However, I can say that a commercial cattle producer bought the younger bull (Bull B) and will be using him on commercial females this spring. I will let you decide whether it was worth the money and if he was justified in taking advantage of this opportunity.