Bull Selection to Improve your Herd

Introduction

Bull selection contributes more genetic impact in a beef herd than any other practice and can be an important tool in long term herd management and improvement if utilized to its full extent.  Conversely, repeated use of poor quality bulls results in lower overall herd performance that carries over to offspring and impacts income.  Whether operating a seedstock or commercial operation, breeding programs should be based on a planned system designed to maximize production considering management style, environment, and the current market.  When selecting bulls, it is important to physically and genetically evaluate the animal, using such tools as Expected Progeny Difference (EPDs), breeding soundness exams, bull conformation

Conformation

Visual evaluation of the bull is critical to ensure that the animal has the capacity to travel, service females, and thrive in the environment and management setting that he is placed in.  Additionally, this is one of the few criteria that need to be met by all animals regardless of herd production goals.  Evaluation of conformation should begin at the hooves and work up through the animal.  Begin by insuring proper hoof structure and angles in pasterns, hocks and knees, and shoulders and stifles.  Good angles will allow the bull to travel more soundly, stay in the herd longer, and create more conformationaly sound offspring.  Other things to consider are size, spring of rib, and hip structure.

Figure 1: Pastern and hoof conformation

Figure 2: Hind leg angle conformation

Genetics

EPDs are another tool for bull selection that help producers predict the differences expected in performance of future progeny of the same breed when mated to animals of the same genetic potential.  For example, if you have a terminal system, EPDs related to calf growth and carcass traits should be emphasized to place genetic selection pressure on the herd that will maximize profits.  Traits of economic importance vary in heritability (how well they are passed on to the next generation).  Reproduction traits have a relatively low heritability so it may take more generations to reach goals in this area.  Selecting a bull with EPDs that compliment or enhance your herd and your management goals is essential to herd and offspring improvement.

Reproductive Expectation

Breeding soundness exams (BSE) serve as a complete evaluation of the reproductive potential of bulls.  This includes mating ability, examination in internal and external genital organs, and assessment of sperm production and quality.  Producers should perform a BSE on each bull before the breeding season begins to evaluate animals and cull bulls that do not meet reproductive standards.  Although bulls are expensive, it may be more expensive to use a bull that is not producing adequate semen or has damage to the sheath or testicles.

Conclusion

There are many tools available to producers to ensure the use of bulls that complement their management strategies.  Bulls can influence the genetics of 20-40 calves per year, where females will only influence 1.  Therefore, utilizing the tools available and purchasing or raising bulls with sound performance records and EPDs can greatly increase income.

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