Helpful Tips for Bull Selection

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bull1Bull selection can be tricky business but one good thing about it is that “one size fits all” does not apply to selecting and purchasing bulls. One of the first things you need to do is understand what your goals are for your cow herd. Is it profitability and making money? Is it having cattle as a hobby or lifestyle? Do I sell purebred seedstock (bulls and replacement heifers)? Do I sell feeder cattle? Or do I just like to load up a few calves and go to the stockyard and see my buddies? There is nothing wrong with any of these answers or any combination of these answers, but these are some things to ask yourself when picking out the right bull for your herd.

There are also some helpful tools that you can use when selecting a bull. EPDs (Expected Progeny Difference) are calculated numbers that help compare bulls within a breed or across different breeds if you use Across Breed EPD Tables. This can be a complicated process for some and a topic for another day or you can consult with your local extension agent if you need help comparing EPDs for bulls of different breeds such as Angus and Simmental.

Some characteristics of bulls expressed in EPDs that can be helpful are calving ease (CED), birth weight (BW), weaning weight (WW), yearling weight (YW), maternal milk (MM), and lots of carcass and efficiency data as well. Just an example of how to use these numbers as a tool is as follows. If I’ve decided that profit is my main concern, then I need to consider weaning weight and yearling weight EPDs heavily in my bull selection process. Bigger numbers predict heavier calves and those calves are the ones that “mash the scales” and result in heavier sale weights and therefore more dollars in your pocket. On the other hand, if I have determined that this is a hobby and I want to sleep well at night and probably don’t have the capability to pull a calf or assist during birth if necessary, then I need to highly consider calving ease (CED) and birth weight (BW) EPDs as a main factor in selecting a bull. Keep in mind that CED numbers that are higher equals easier calving and the opposite is true for BW in that lower numbers equal lower birth weights. These should also be considered when selecting a bull for breeding heifers and we may be looking for a bull with higher CED numbers and lower BW numbers.

If you are buying your breeding bull from the stockyard or someone with EPD numbers, then you are taking some huge chances on using bulls that won’t perform or could cause potential calving problems.

Another tool for evaluating bulls is visual appraisal. Good confirmation is very important and good sound hocks and back legs can be vital to getting cows bred. Your bull will spend a lot of time on his back legs during breeding season and the older and bigger he gets the more weight those back legs will have to withstand. You’ll also look for a bull with enough frame and muscling to throw calves that will gain weight and therefore “mash those scales down” and put more dollars in your pocket. You probably want to look at the front end as well and make sure he is smooth shouldered and not too wide which could lead to broad shouldered calves that may making calving difficult.

Also remember that you probably want a bull that complements your herd. If your cow herd lacks frame and/or muscling, you’ll probably want to look at bulls with enough frame and/or muscling to ensure that the calves you market are up to industry standards therefore more consistently bringing top market value.

Remember, using tools such as EPDs and visual appraisal, and matching the bull to the needs of your cowherd, can help ensure you select the right bull and fit the needs of your cattle operation and farm. If you need help learning more about any of these skills or want assistance with bull appraisal, make sure you contact your local N.C. Cooperative Extension Livestock Agent.