Bulls are part of any cow-calf operation. Even if a farm chooses to use artificial insemination to breed their cows they will still have a “clean-up” bull on-site to breed any remaining open cows. What makes a good bull? How do you go about purchasing a bull? A lot depends on your farm’s goals. A bull is half of your calf crop’s genetics so you want to make the right decision. For me, I want a bull to be balanced in both his looks and genetics. I want a bull that is muscular, long and deep bodied, wide chested, structurally correct, sound feet and legs, and a head/neck/shoulder area that blends smoothly. On the genetics side, I am looking for proven sire/dam genetics and EPD’s that are balanced with added emphasis on maternal traits and calving ease to meet our goals. I think more often than not, producers look too much at EPD’s and not enough at the actual bull. They select for a given trait such as low birth weight, but then may give up volume and muscle. There has to be a balance, I do not like extremes.
Speaking of bulls that I like, check out our newest guy, Toro. Toro comes to us from a very reputable Hereford breeder that focuses on providing sound, functional, and genetically superior cattle. I honestly wasn’t expecting to purchase a new bull this year but went ahead and started the process knowing I wanted to change bull genetics in 2019. One thing led to another and I found the dreamiest of all Hereford bulls. He has the looks, personality (being gentle is a must), genetics, and EPD’s that I was looking for AND all at the right price. As a small producer, we have to be realistic about what we can spend on a bull. Meet Toro:
Toro is a yearling bull that has not been bred before. We usually buy virgin, yearling bulls so we have them in their prime and they are not too large for breeding heifers. We can get away with using a yearling because we breed a smaller number of cows. Toro would not be suitable to breed 25-30 head but can breed 12-15. He will continue to grow and mature and we hope to use him for at least three seasons, maybe more.
Our veterinarian visited Toro yesterday for his breeding soundness exam and pre-breeding vaccinations/deworming. A breeding soundness exam includes scrotal circumference measurement, physical exam (eyes, feet, etc.), and semen evaluation. You can think of it as insurance for the breeding season. The one thing that does not come into account is libido. A bull may check out fine but lack libido so it is important to watch bulls at turnout to make sure they are interested in the cows and doing their job.
When it comes to purchasing a bull, here are a few good tips I have learned over the years:
- Buy from a reputable breeder. Don’t be afraid to look into the breeder and ask questions. If the breeder cannot tell you about their goals, health program, breeding program, etc. then proceed with caution. Check out sales they have consigned cattle to and/or talk to people who have purchased cattle from them.
- Determine your goals. It is hard to purchase a bull for your breeding program if you have not set goals. Here are a few examples: If you sell feeder calves at weaning, make sure to check out an early growth bull that will put pounds on your calves by weaning. If you sell replacement heifers, make sure to select a bull from maternal genetics with sound maternal EPD’s. If you are mainly a forage-based program on fescue, do not purchase a bull that was not raised in a similar environment.
- Always buy a bull with a health and breeding guarantee. It is important that at the time of purchase that the bull has a current breeding soundness exam and is up-to-date on vaccinations and deworming (you do not want to buy disease/parasites to bring back to your farm). Any reputable breeder will have a health and breeding guarantee, make sure you understand what that means prior to purchasing. Some breeders may not have a current breeding soundness exam done due to the bull’s age (bulls usually less than 12 months old) but the bull will still have a health and breeding guarantee.
- Go look at the bull. If you are interested in purchasing a bull, make sure you lay eyes on him. If you can, go look at the brood cow herd as well. It is important to see the bull in person and watch him move for structure and soundness concerns.
- Don’t be in a rush. Give yourself plenty of time to shop for your next bull purchase. I have made that mistake and it is costly because you get put in a corner and have to settle for a bull you really don’t want. I have found that I like buying private treaty much more than buying at a sale. I can take my time, place a deposit, and schedule a pick-up date. Plus, I know what the cost of the bull is. At a sale, you have an idea of what a bull may sell for but it may go for 2-3 times that amount if someone wants him bad enough, then what? On the other side, sales do provide you with the opportunity to look at a variety of bulls and select a few that would work for you if the price is right! Usually, you can visit with the owners and see the bulls prior to the sale which is strongly encouraged.
Happy Bull Shopping!