Herd Bull Selection

Purchasing bulls can be fun and nerve-wracking all at the same time.  But keeping a few key points in mind as you go into the bull buying process can ease some of that anxiety.  One of the most important reproductive management decisions for the cow herd is herd bull selection.  Here are some important points to consider (note, this is not an all-inclusive list):

  • Establish Priorities – Every operation is unique. Concentrate on those factors which stand to have the largest impact on profitability for your operation (sale weight, % calf crop weaned, carcass merit, etc.).
  • Match Your Environmental Challenges & Management Practices – Performance is a function of both genetics and environment/management. A bull may have all the genetic potential in the world, but environmental challenges and poor management (heat stress, forages, feed resources, health program, etc.) can negate that potential.
  • Take Advantage of Heterosis (Hybrid Vigor) – Research has proven that heterosis, or hybrid vigor, is the improvement shown by crossbred animals over straight bred animals. For decades, Florida’s cow herds are typically made up of crossbred cows that are bred to purebred bulls (of a different breed than the make-up of the cows).  Crossbred cows have the advantage of their maternal heterosis.  Then their calves, sired by the purebred bull, experience additional hybrid vigor.  Research has shown that an additional 28% calf weight is raised by crossbred calves raised by crossbred cows than those of straight-bred cows.  Use a purebred bull that will complement your cowherd’s breed type.
  • Really look at EPD and Performance Data – Expected Progeny Differences (EPD) predict how a bull’s calves will compare to calves of the average bull of the same Breed associations establish breed averages to show how individual bulls compare to the rest of the breed in each EPD category.  Current breed averages and information on how to use EPDs are included in breed association sire summaries, which are available on most major breed association websites.  EPDs are available for many traits of economic importance. The introduction of economic indexes which combine several related traits and their economic values into one EPD are available to assist with simultaneous improvement in multiple traits which impact areas such as carcass merit and post-weaning profit.
  • Look at the Bulls – While EPDs can provide a wealth of information about the genetic potential of a bull, it is still critical to visually inspect bull prospects prior to the sale. Not all important traits have EPDs like disposition, eye lesions, structural soundness, fleshing ability, etc.
  • Make Sure He is Healthy – A reputable bull seller should be able to produce veterinary records for a Breeding Soundness Exam (BSE) and protection against venereal diseases. Even virgin bulls should be tested and/or vaccinated against venereal diseases such as trich, Johne’s, BVD and campylobacter.  Talk to your veterinarian about what health considerations you should have prior to purchasing a bull and get assurances from your reputable seller.
  • You Get What You Pay For – The value of the right bull cannot be underestimated. Investments in good genetics will pay dividends both short and long term through the influence the bull has on each calf crop as well as his daughters that are retained in the herd.

For more information about bull selection, contact Bridget Stice, at bccarlis@ufl.edu or (863) 588-2697 or contact your local County Extension Agent.


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Posted: November 9, 2022

Category: Livestock
Tags: Bull Selection, Cattle, SFBF

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