So you’re a new cattle producer and you’ve listened to many different resources (including your local Extension Agent) say that the fastest way to increase the genetic potential of your herd is through your bull. That makes sense, since the bull will provide 50% of the genetic material to upwards of 50 calves, and a cow can only provide 50% of the genetic material to 1 calf. We can get quicker improvement by using better bulls. But where do we get these better bulls? If you’re like many cattle producers, both large and small, you may find yourself at a bull sale soon.
The term “bull sale” is more frequently used, but a more accurate term is “bull auction.” Most purebred cattle are going to be sold to the highest bidder at an auction hosted by the purebred producer. And if you are not familiar with how an auction is run, I have some tips for you to help make your first bull sale run a little smoother.
Get ahold of the catalog
Most bull sales will have a nice, laminated publication that has a listing of all the bulls that will be for sale that day. It can sometimes be found online early, so check to see if you can get a head start by printing your own a few days in advance.
Study the EPDs to help choose the bulls that fit into your program
EPDs (Expected Progeny Difference) will help guide you to select which bulls you should target to take home. Are you looking to get a bull to breed to first calf heifers? Look for a bull with low Birth Weight, and high Calving Ease Direct. Looking to retain ownership through finishing? Look for preferred carcass traits or higher Residual Average Daily Gain. EPDs are a great tool to help you purchase just the bull you need. For more information on EPDs, click here.
Go the day before if you can
Some bull sales will allow buyers to come inspect the bulls the day of, and the day before, the sale. If you go the day before, likely there will be less people and you will get a chance to see your top picks without lots of people around. Regardless of when you get the chance, be sure to always inspect your top picks physically before you buy. He might be a great bull genetically speaking, but if he’s not up to the job physically, it won’t help your herd.
Select 2-3x the number of bulls you want
Remember this is an auction, and the highest bidder wins. So that means unless you have reeeeally deep pockets, you’re not likely to get your top choice bull. Have several in mind that fit your program. Also be aware of how much you can spend in total. If you spend 75% of your budget on one bull, you are either going to not have enough for another purchase or your second bull might not be up to par. And that substandard bull is likely going to breed just as many cows as your high dollar bull.
Get your bidder number
One of the first things you should do when you arrive on sale day is register and get your bidder number. That way, they know who to charge when you make a purchase.
Get a good seat
Be sure to get to the sale ring early enough that you get a good seat so the ring men can see you, but also so you can see the bulls.
Be aware of your alcohol consumption
Again, this is an auction. It is in the interest of the host to make sure the bulls sell for as much money as possible. So some auctions will offer alcoholic beverages in hopes that some buyers will make purchases against their better judgement. After the bull sale, there is always the story of someone spending more than they should have. Don’t let your alcohol use make you the subject of that story.
Know who you are bidding against
One thing I like to do when I choose my seat is to sit on the sides of the ring. That way, I can investigate most of the crowd and see who is bidding. Knowing who you are bidding against will give you some idea of what the bull may go for. If you have your heart set on a bull, but see you are bidding against your local AI provider, you might need to call your banker and see about a loan.
Write down the prices of the bulls you didn’t get
You don’t have to do this for the whole catalogue, but at least for the bulls you had chosen but didn’t get to purchase. This can give you an idea as to what your next desired bull will cost.
Don’t focus too much on any one bull
There’s a reason why we circled so many bulls in the catalogue. If there’s a bull that meets all your requirements, chances are he meets all of someone else’s too.
Check to see if the breeder has any insurance or warranty available
While not common, it is possible that some breeders will offer a warranty on their bulls. Or you can take out some insurance on the bull yourself. A breeder’s warranty will likely cover any genetic or reproductive insecurities. But for any other liability, you will likely need insurance. There’s nothing quite as disheartening as spending money on a new bull only to have it break a leg two weeks later.
Speak to breeders about private contracts
Sometimes you can get deals by working with breeders to arrange a deal without the auction hassle. This might be better organized by the smaller breeders. Also, some breeders will work deals on yearling bulls. These bulls still have some growing to do before they are ready for your herd, but this way they may come with a cheaper price tag.
Even if you are not buying, a bull sale is an exciting and interesting environment. The important thing to keep in mind is knowing what you need and how much you can spend to get it.