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The Cattle Connection

The cattlemen's connection to timely topics, current research, and profitable management strategies

Time and thought devoted to bull selection is worth it

Posted by Travis Meteer - Genetics

Have you ever looked beside the recliner of a cattleman during bull sale season? Catalogs stacked deep and scattered in every direction, pages saved, lot numbers circled, EPDs highlighted, and a dozen empty coffee cups littering the scene. Bull selection can be a consuming task, but cattlemen realize future profitability is very dependent on the next herdsire.

It is important to make sound, informed decisions when buying bulls. A bull has more genetic contribution to the herd than a cow. A bull will sire 10-30 progeny where a cow has only 1 calf. With the average herd size at 40 cows, a bull can sire up to 75% of the calves in an average sized operation. A mistake in bull buying can result in calves that are undesirable to an operation or even the industry. On the other hand, a good purchase can yield quality replacements and profitable, industry-relevant cattle.

So where do you start? Before you get bogged down in numbers, pedigrees, pictures, and more numbers, it is important to evaluate your own operation. The cattle industry is extremely diverse and different types of cattle can be profitable. A producer must identify a market and select cattle that will demand a premium in that market. Producers that retain ownership and sell on a grid would want to put more emphasis on carcass traits, whereas cattlemen that sell bred heifers would want to put more stress on reproductive and maternal traits. There is no one formula that fits all cattlemen. Identify your market and select bulls that will generate progeny that fit it.

Selection tools have come a long way in the last 10 years. Today's EPDs are not your father's EPDs. EPDs not only take parentage, weights, and carcass information into account, but now they are even enhanced by DNA genetic tests. This helps improve the accuracy of EPDs sooner in an animal's life. Previously, we have had to wait for one or two calf crops to justify the values. Now, we can make confident breeding decisions with younger bulls that supply fresher genetics. The EPDs provided to producers in 2013 are more reliable than ever before. Use these genetic predictors as the foundation to bull selection.

Dollar values and multi-trait indexes also help simplify selection. These figures help weigh and emphasize economically important traits into a single value. All essential breeds have developed these values. For example $W and $B (Angus), API and TI (Simmental), $BMI and $CHB (Hereford). These values blend numbers and economics to help illustrate how an animal can impact the bottom line. Visit respective breed association websites for further explanation on indexes.

No matter where you decide to put your emphasis when selecting bulls, DO NOT single trait select. It is important to realize that when improvement is made in one trait, a decline in another trait is likely. If you select to increase growth traits, you're inevitably increasing mature cow size and nutrient requirements of daughters from this mating. Progress can be made in several different traits, but these improvements take time. Smart, well-thought-out selections can yield these improvements, but it is important to stay away from extremes.

While you are sorting through bull sale catalogs, remember that your selection has great impact. Find bulls that work for your operation. Invest in these bulls. Don't let your selection be dependent upon price. Good times are ahead for the cow/calf producer. An investment in good genetics will pay dividends and benefit you for years to come.

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