As bull-sale season gets underway, Kansas State University cow-calf specialist Bob Weaber, PhD, advises ranchers to do their homework to ensure bulls they purchase meet their needs.

1. Make sure you understand the use of Expected Progeny Differences and selection indexes. EPDs are the most effective tools available to describe the genetic differences between animals within and across herds and are more effective genetic predictors than actual or adjusted performance records. The EPD removes age and environmental effects that can bias a decision based on actual or adjusted performance records. Use Calving Ease or Calving Ease Direct EPDs, rather than birthweight EPD, to select bulls that minimize calving difficulty. Calculations for the Calving Ease EPD include BW data and other sources of information that affect dystocia.

2. Know what traits you would like to improve and which breeds fit in your mating system. If you are using a crossbreeding system make sure the breed you selected fits your objectives. Other factors to consider include keeping replacement heifers and endpoints for marketing progeny as weaned calves, yearlings or finished cattle. Based on these factors, choose the breed and the combination of maternal, growth and carcass traits that best fits your operation and environment. Be sure to apply selection to traits that have direct economic importance in your production system.

3. Set a realistic budget for bull purchases. Like most things in life, price is driven by quality. Evaluation of a seedstock supplier’s prior-year sale averages will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of purchase costs. That said, prices over the last 12 months indicate that seedstock purchases are substantially more expensive, some as much as $500 more, than in previous years.

4. Get to know your seedstock suppliers and make sure they know you and your operational goals. Seek out recommendations from your supplier well in advance of the sale. Once you receive the sale catalog, make a short list of bulls that fit your specifications. Arrive at the sale site early to inspect the bulls on your short list.

The National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium offers useful information on EPDs and other genetic topics at