Advertisements for purebred bull sales are plentiful. Sale time will be here before you know it this spring, and it is never too late to begin planning for your next herd bull purchase. Underestimating the impact of the herd bull can prove detrimental to your beef business. Selecting and purchasing your next herd sire could be considered the most important decision you make in your operation. Keep in mind that your bull will account for approximately 90 percent of the gene pool, contributing more to the genetic makeup of a herd in one breeding season than a cow contributes in her lifetime.

This investment should add efficiency and profitability to your herd for years to come. The cost of purchasing a bull may seem high at first glance; however, that expense becomes relatively small when it is spread over three to five years of calf crops. Remember the expense of the new bull can be calculated as the difference between the purchase price of the new bull and the salvage value of the old bull. And, if you add pounds to your future calf crops through your new purchase, then you will have profitable returns on your investment.

From the onset, producers need to have a production goal in mind and consequently a direction for genetic improvement. Having a breeding objective planned will help keep producers from straying too far away from the traits most pertinent to reaching their endpoint. Ask questions that pertain to your particular production situation. These should include things like forage and labor availability, marketing endpoint and replacement strategy. Then, focus on the selection index that best fits your program’s goals.

Breeders should have performance EPDs available for buyers. Birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight and milk values are commonly available;- 3 - Jeremy Powell, DVM Professor and Veterinarian The information given herein is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is implied. however, most breed associations now have a plethora of EPDs that include carcass traits as well. Advances in National Cattle Evaluation have made estimating a bull’s genetic worth more accurate than ever before. EPDs allow valid comparisons of all bulls of the same breed, and across-breed charts are now available so that comparisons can be made between two different breeds. With that said, the amount of information available to a producer in the form of actual performance, expected progeny differences and selection indexes can be overwhelming in pinpointing the traits to place more selection pressure on to fit the needs of your beef business.

Evaluate your current cow base and calf crop and make a decision based on your results. Your bull should complement your cows in hopes of increasing hybrid vigor and improving traits that will maximize your production goals, match target markets and improve bottom line profitability. Now, depending on a herd’s production scenario, various traits provide different economic benefits. For example, if a producer retains ownership and sells cattle on a carcass basis, placing all the selection pressure on calving ease, weaning growth and maternal traits creates a disconnect between selection and marketing. The producer in this scenario doesn’t have much opportunity to capture weaned calf value and quality heifer retention and eliminate selection pressure on carcass merit that is the most economically important in this scenario. In contrast, producers seeking to provide their own replacements should avoid EPDs or indexes focused on carcass traits. Applying equal pressure to all the traits with EPDs dramatically limits progress in those that are the most economically important. Singletrait selection, while providing the most opportunity to change a single trait, leaves out other traits of importance and generates significant genetic risk.

At the same time, you must not forget about the visual factors that come along with the bull you purchase. He should be functionally sound resulting in herd sire longevity and ability to fulfill his breeding requirements. At most sales, a Breeding Soundness Exam has been performed, but if you are buying from an individual, always request a BSE. Remember that a bull is only as good as his semen.A cow is responsible for half the genetic material in only one calf each year, while the bull is responsible for half the genetic material in 20 to 50 calves. The ability of the bull to locate cows in estrus and breed is clearly vital to a successful breeding program. Other factors to consider are disposition, libido, body shape, frame size, condition and muscling. Purchasing a new herd bull can be a difficult balancing act, and producers should remember that when using EPDs or selection indexes, the one chosen should align with their marketing endpoint and hopefully result in optimum profit. While one approach may be to apply more pressure on one or two traits, it is always best to strike a balance among various traits and avoid extremes.

Purchase a bull based on the purpose of your breeding plan.This process must include those traits that are economically important and highly heritable. Keep in mind that not every bull will fit your production scenario, but the decision you make with your purchase, if done properly, will be invaluable in influencing your beef production for the next several years.