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Bull sale catalogs require thought, herd understanding

Missouri Extension Southwest Regional Service Published on 18 February 2011

This time of year a variety of catalogs appear in the mailboxes of rural landowners. These catalogs have the latest offerings in seed corn, soybeans, vegetables, flowers, poultry and beef breeding stock, especially bulls.

Cow-calf raisers must pay particular attention to today's bull sale catalogs according to Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

"The bull catalogs require a lot of thought and consideration whether you are buying a bull or choosing semen to use in an artificial insemination program," said Cole.

Technology is one area that most breeding stock suppliers stress in the catalogs.

In years past, the catalogs focused on pedigrees, pictures and show ring winnings. Now, producers see expected progeny difference (EPDs), DNA results, percentile rank, residual feed intake results (RFI), assistance in calf marketing, videos of a bull, sight-unseen purchasing, leasing arrangements, breeding guarantees and more.

"Unless you've been doing your homework, all this high-tech, talk can be confusing," said Cole.

The more astute producer will know the weaknesses in the cow herd's genetics. Perhaps pre- and post-weaning records, carcass results and cow performance data has been kept over the years and can guide the selections.

"If this information isn't available, an alternative route to follow would be to back-track to the past sires used over several years. If those sires have EPD data, see what their numbers indicate their daughters are contributing or not contributing genetically to the herd," said Cole.

Using a sire's EPD profile is only helpful if heifers from him are kept in a significant number and remain in the herd. Those who buy replacement females would probably not be able to track down sire's EPDs effectively according to Cole.

"The alternative might be to check with your marketer or respected persons who see your cattle regularly that you trust would give you an unbiased evaluation of your herd's needs," said Cole.

Cole says he understands that all of the numbers can be confusing, but he still encourages producers to try and comprehend basic EPD usage.

"Rather than get involved in the specific EPD number for calving ease, growth, milk production of daughters and marbling ability, look at the percentile rank for each trait," said Cole.

Percentile rank refers to where the bull ranks within his breed for a trait. A 50 percent rank means the bull is average.

"If you do not feel a need to change much in your herd, buying a bull that falls in the 40 to 60 percentile on a particular trait could be best for you. Every herd does not need the top ranking bull for every trait. There are tradeoffs to be made," said Cole.

When change in a trait, like calving ease, is desired, a percentile rank in the upper end of the breed (1 to 30) should be sought.

"Whether you're in the market for one or ten bulls you need to devote considerable time to browsing through the catalogs. Understanding the terms used to describe a bull's genetic potential is vital if you're in the cow-calf business for the long haul," said Cole.

According to Cole, the next several years offer optimistic price outlooks for all cattle. The greatest financial benefits will go to those producers who have done their homework before they ever go look at the bull.

"If the bull doesn't look like he'll work on paper, don't be fooled into buying him because he's attractive or cheap. The person who buys the best bulls typically ends up with the best calves come sale time," said Cole.

For more information, contact any of the MU Extension livestock specialists in southwest Missouri: Eldon Cole in Mt. Vernon, (417) 466-3102 or Dona Goede in Cedar County, (417) 276-3313. end_mark