Fine Tune Your Bull Buying Decisions This Season
Bull sale season is creeping up fast and we know full well it can be a time-consuming and stressful time for bull buyers, with so many variables to consider and a lot riding on the decisions you make.
Failing to plan is planning to fail, so get ahead of the game with our top four tips for bull selection that will see you walk into the season knowing exactly what you are looking for.
1.Have The Big Picture Insight
What is it that you want to achieve on-farm? The answer to this question is the holy grail of all decisions made beyond this point.
Is it to send cattle to slaughter before the second winter, or attract premiums for your weaners for example? Then, with an eye on this objective, you can be clear on what it is you need in a sire to be able to achieve this, and therefore focus your attention this season on bulls that exhibit the required traits.
2. Shortlist Early
With step 1 in check, the next task is to look for bull breeders with similar objectives to yours. This is an easy and efficient way to reduce the time you need to spend wading through data on individual bulls from endless breeders. Think of it as a shortlisting exercise.
A breeder’s breeding programme should be clear, concise, and backed up by strong data. You also want to make sure they are progressive, i.e. are they making good genetic gains? This can be achieved simply by being direct and asking questions to extract the information and assurance you need. A good place to start is asking for genetic trend graphs and percentile band tables. These will speak for themselves in terms of where a breeder’s bulls rate for specific traits. You obviously want to see graphs with a positive upward trend for the traits that are relevant to your overarching goals and objectives.
3. Does The Data Stack Up?
Knowing the traits you need in a bull you can then use the benefits of modern-day science to your advantage. Nowadays, there is a multitude of genetic and scientific tools available to help with selection decisions, with Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) being the most common. An animal’s breeding value is its genetic merit, and these are expressed in the units of measurement for each particular trait.
By focussing on the EBVs relevant to the trait(s) you are looking for, you can identify which bull(s) are best suited to help you reach your goals faster. Another top tip is that it’s often more productive to take note of how a bull ranks within the breed for each EBV versus studying the number itself. We can assume that a bull in the top 25% or higher of his breed often excel in the respective trait.
4. Does He ‘look’ The Part As Well?
Whilst EBVs have firmly proven their worth as an important tool to use when selecting your next bull, this by no means do you do away with the more traditional methods which rely on visual assessment – trust your eye. A good bull must still present with the conformation required to do the job it needs to do. Structural soundness is a highly heritable trait and has the ability to significantly impact the potential of your operation. It is a very good indicator of whether a bull is able to cover adequate ground and breed the number of cows required. It is a good idea to ask prospective stud breeder(s) how they assess their structure – ideally it is independently evaluated and free of bias. We also recommend familiarising yourself with the basics of the beef class assessment system.
Best of luck this season – if you are reading this then we can assume you are considering or have decided on a Simmental Bull so you’re on the right path.
We’ve kept this blog short and succinct as we know farmers are forever short of time. However, if you want to read more on this topic, a few years back Beef + Lamb Genetics produced a really detailed five-step guide to finding the best bull for your operation. You can read this in full here.