Strategic Bull Selection

Published on Mon, 05/01/2023 - 1:15pm

Strategic Bull Selection.

 By Jaclyn Krymowski.

 Breeding season - and the work that leads to it - is a crucial time for a ranch. The decisions made here directly impact calving and sale season results.

As you identify goals and ambitions and create a map to get there, it is imperative to have herd sires either on the ground or in a straw that can help you reach your destination.

In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing food system, ranchers are more pressured to keep a close eye on the market flow and demands as they develop the next cattle crop. That means that, more than ever before, the decisions made each breeding season must be as strategic as possible.

Goal setting
When selecting bull characteristics, identify both the marketing and breeding aspect for your goals. Determine the destiny and purpose of the calves. Are they replacements? Or will they be sold as beef animals?

Grady Ruble of South Dakota State University notes in his Bull Selection bulletin that this also requires the producer to look at what traits they desire and if there are any environmental factors that might impact certain traits.

More than at any other point in history, beef producers have the capability to harness health and environmental traits for their herds thanks to genomics. With continual evaluations and indexes becoming available, it’s wise for both commercial and seedstock producers to keep a pulse on the genetic world.

Performance traits for both terminal and maternal animals should be considered alongside the current state of the whole herd and its potential.

To keep abreast of the overwhelming indexes and expected progeny differences (EPDs), it’s helpful to start the old-fashioned way by creating a list of desired traits and then sorting them based on the importance of each. That provides a baseline when examining and comparing bulls.

Determining the traits that make the cut should include a blend of combing through tangible records and sale numbers along with a visual inspection and perhaps professional consultation. Visual and record inspection before breeding also affords an opportunity to do a last-minute culling of animals that are costing more than they are worth.

Making the selection
In my previous article, Strategic and Scientific Bull Selection, I mentioned how every new sire you bring into the herd (herd bull or from a tank), brings in some permanent genetic change. Additionally, operations that retain their own heifers in a closed herd are limited to some extent in their genetic change.

In many cases, genetic change is accelerated in crossbreeding programs due to heterosis. Crossbreeding is becoming more popular in the seedstock circle as well as commercial circles.

While EPDs continue to grow in their accuracy, there has been an industry-wide trend to move  towards the dollar index as the be-all-end-all for multitrait selection.

It’s a valuable tool no doubt, especially for those tricky economic traits. However, using them exclusively - or using them without consideration as to what they actually stand for - can be detrimental.

Remember that indexes like EPDs are updated and the formulas can change. Be sure to do your research with the most up-to-date information about the indexes and the traits they include. Breed associations and geneticists are your friends on these matters. As well,  they are often an excellent source of free information.

In her bulletin Here’s the Beef: Basics for Selecting a Bull  for Texas A&M University, Kaitlyn Arnold noted that it is very important that herd bulls or bulls that are physically being brought in to service a herd come with records and are visually inspected for physical appearance.

Structural soundness is important to evaluate as it will impact performance and longevity. You need to see and evaluate this because it will not be qualified by a number on paper.

It is additionally important to evaluate their reproductivity through a breeding soundness exam. This should be done routinely to make sure the bull is still a viable option.

From this aspect, it’s also helpful to purchase a live bull that has been raised in conditions similar to the one you provide in your operation. This will ensure he can do his job and does not need to adjust to harsher conditions than he’s been acclimated to.

Points worth remembering
Be sure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket from a genetics standpoint when choosing a herd sire. . Many traits need to be considered. Choosing a bull because he is strong in one suit, may leave important traits overlooked or neglected.

Artificial insemination can be a powerful tool during breeding season, opening the herd to a larger pool of genetic traits that can influence change.

Small-scale producers must especially be judicious in their selection. Be mindful of negative correlations and trade-offs between carcass quality and performance traits.

Rachel Owens writes in her bulletin  Selecting the Right Bull for your Herd for North Carolina Cooperative Extension:

“Selecting for only calving ease can lead to calves that stay small at weaning and yearling weights, which means less money in your pocket on sale day. However, you cannot select for every single trait, especially since some traits are inherently opposite. Consider how traits interact when making decisions.”

Again it is important to consider the traits you are selecting for and the potential risks of what other traits might be impacted or limited by the mating decision for the desired trait.

Choosing herd sires for the next generation of calves is a very personal decision based on a myriad of individual factors that vary by herd. Determine what traits most impact your operation, evaluate the tools available to help you choose sires and then look for the bulls that most closely fit your needs.

For some, this will be a single bull. For others, it could be several bulls. For some, this may mean creating their own bulls through A.I. or embryo transfer.