Choosing Bulls Wisely: Selecting a Herd Sire

  • A bull is important to your next calf crop as well as long term.
  • Decide which way you want to access a bull.
  • Get a breeding soundness evaluation before turning him in with cows.

Selecting a herd sire is as important for farms with 100 cows as it is for those with 10. Do you need a bull? What are you looking to do in breeding? The choices you make impact your herd in next years calves and further down the line if you keep replacement heifers. If you’re building your herd up the bull you choose can map the next dozen years – or make or break your program.

Artificial Insemination – or AI – is used in many programs. It allows the chance to breed to major winning bulls or even bulls who are deceased. However it is labor intensive – one must catch the cow just at the right time. Average conception might be 60% – meaning for every 10 of those straws you buy four will be money lost. Or you might get lucky and get more – or unlucky and have someone leave the tank open and lose the entire batch.

beltiehobartAnother option is leasing a bull – where you pay a fee and use a bull for 3-5 months, often a higher quality bull than you could afford to buy. For the small producer with a dozen or so cows this is a viable option – the bull does the work and your chances of coming up with pregnant cows are much higher. Getting a dozen cows bred might not be much to some but if you have twelve cows it’s everything!

Lastly you can buy a bull. You can count on having to replace him every 2-3 years. Rotating bulls is needed for those raising replacements. You’ll use him this year – his calf crop will be born next year. Breed the cows back that year and in ’09 you have a second crop from him. You can breed the original cows back to him – but will now need a second bull to breed those heifers born this year to.

A good bull is an investment. He can take your program forward or set it back. One way to increase the likelihood of siring calves with traits exceeding the breed average is selecting on EPD numbers, Expected Progeny Difference. Using this you can choose specific traits you want and increase your chances in getting it with proven bulls. If you’re selling feeder calves, pick a bull with high EPD for weaning weight; if you need bigger calves choose on frame scores. If you’re raising replacements look at calving ease and birthweight. If you have a dual purpose, dairy or beef that needs heavier calves look also at milk EPD numbers. Keep in mind plenty of milk means plenty for those calves to eat – and the daughters of the bull chosen will need to maximize that.

Don’t buy at an auction just because he’s there. Usually he’s there for a reason. A better place if you’re going for auctions is breeders’ production sales, association sales, performance tested bull sales or privately from breeders. British breeds such as Angus, Hereford and shorthorn have reputation for being outstanding grazers. European or Continental breeds such as Charolais, Limousin, Simmental, Gelbveih are usually larger framed, bigger bodied animals. For those in the heat Brahman crosses might be a choice – Beefmaster, Brangus, Braford, Santa Gertrudis, Simbrah, Charbray, Gelbray, Brahousin and other percentage cattle can perform well in hot conditions. Your choices dwindle somewhat if you have some rare breeds – Scottish Highland, Red Poll, Galloway or Devon simply aren’t as strong in numbers but is just as important. If there are no numbers from EPD tests look at what he’s sired – in person not online. Look at the cows he’s been bred to.

Before putting a bull to your cow herd make sure to invest in a breeding soundness evaluation. This makes sure he’s fertile and sound enough without any health issues to interfere with breeding. There’s nothing more frustrating to having supported a bull for several months and come up with empty cows – then find out he’s infertile. It sets your program behind, is expensive and difficult to catch up. It’s a good investment to insure the best chances of getting a good crop of calves.

Choose wisely and make your money – and your bull – work for you.

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