Beef cattle producers who want to boost their profit potential need to consider several factors when purchasing a herd sire, says a beef cattle expert in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

While beef cattle producers have a wide range of criteria when purchasing a herd sire based on their production goals and the size of their herd, price and calving ease usually become high priorities, said John Grimes, beef coordinator for Ohio State University Extension and a member of the OSU Extension Beef Team. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.

Given the value of feeder cattle and the level of expenses associated with beef production today, producers have to make sure that any potential herd sire they consider buying is able to get the cow pregnant and produce live calves, Grimes said.

“It’s like buying a car or life insurance, it’s never as easy as it sounds,” he said. “A lot of folks have calves on the ground and breeding season isn’t far away. 

“Just like anything, price is going to come into the conversation. Cattle are so valuable now because of supply and demand so we’ve got to produce live calves. The two most important traits in any potential herd sire are fertility, because we’ve got to get the cow pregnant, and then calving ease to help get a live calf on the ground.”

Producing more live calves has taken on increased importance for most producers thanks to lower corn prices, improved pasture conditions, smaller beef cow herds and increased domestic demand. All this has combined to help beef cattle producers experience record prices for beef this year, Grimes said.

“There is simply too much risk involved in beef production today for producers to take a chance on a choosing a herd sire without knowing its genetics, health and fertility,” he said. “It’s very important because cattle production is a long-term thing.

“The lengthy production cycle of 15 to 18 months to get a calf from birth to market means that you’ve got to get them rebred quickly to be profitable. Because of the expense of raising an animal, it’s important to have live calves each year to pay expenses. “

When considering a herd sire, producers should check the animal’s Expected Progeny Differences, or EPDs, which allow the breeder to identify the animals that excel in the traits that are important for their operation, Grimes said.

“EPDs are numerical scores that give a producer an indication where this animal ranks on specific traits,” he said. “EPDs can be used to determine exactly where a herd sire candidate ranks within a given breed and its potential to make significant improvements in performance of future calf crops.”

In a recent Beef Cattle Letter, Grimes offers producers the following tips when making herd sire purchase:

  • Identify the production goals for your herd and select a sire that will meet the needs of your cowherd.
  • Use EPDs and selection indexes to identify outstanding sire prospects.
  • Never buy a bull without a Breeding Soundness Examination, which can give producers the assurance that a herd sire has the ability to get cows bred. It’s like an insurance policy for breeding.
  • Select the age and size that matches the number of cows to be bred, placing about the same number of cows or heifers with a young bull as his age is in months. Putting too many cows with too young of a bull is a recipe for open cows.
  • A bull that can increase the number of live calves born, add growth and increase the maternal strength of a herd through daughters retained should be viewed as a sound investment.
  • You get what you pay for. A low-cost bull that may not excel in traits of importance may be purchased just to get cows bred and does little to add to the profitability of the herd. This bull is little more than a "cow settler."

“A bull impacts at least half of your calf crop and the percentage is higher if you keep daughters of a bull,” Grimes said. “Every producer has to worry about fertility and calving ease.”