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Bull-marketing season has begun, which means producers are being bombarded with advertising and articles on selecting and valuing bulls, and using genetic-genomic technologies.

To sustain a commercial cattle inventory, producers replace unproductive cows with new females as bred heifers. A primary need for some bulls is to produce daughters that will function well as working cows within the resources, management, restraints and economics of a farm or ranch.

“To ensure that daughters are of the genetic lineage with the right characteristics, start by sourcing their sires from breeder herds that run their cows the way cows are run at your place,” said John Dhuyvetter, a North Dakota State University-Extension area livestock-systems specialist. “Do you expect your cows to graze for seven to eight months, winter on hay and minerals for the most part, maintain health, breed on schedule and produce a marketable calf with little intervention? How might daughters of a bull from a highly supplemented, silage-fed, barn-calved herd with breed-leading numbers for growth, milk and carcass traits stand up in your program?”

By achieving longevity in females, replacement rate might be minimized to 10 percent to 12 percent annually of one’s herd. Theoretically, when allowing for some calf losses and culling of heifer calves, less than 40 percent of a herd’s matings need to be to bulls targeted to genetically maternal replacements.

Criteria for bulls siring calves should focus on their market value as feeder cattle, if that’s what producers sell, Dhuyvetter said. Producers should try to buy bulls from breeders whose cattle have a good reputation and who have networks that assist in marketing at leading prices.

The bulls’ progeny should be recognized for maintaining calving ease, as well as feed efficiency and carcass merit. A cattle feeder can pay more for calves that have been managed for high health, gain more than 4 pounds a day, convert feed-to-gain at 6 pounds or fewer of feed per pound of gain, finish at 1,300 pounds to 1,400 pounds, and hit marbling targets for choice or higher-branded beef programs.

At a basic level, the industry needs a differing focus on bulls for breeding based on expectations for their progeny, Dhuyvetter said.

He gives advice for producers buying bulls whose daughters will be replacements.

  • Look for bulls with sound mothers – udder and feet – and that have been in the herd a while, maintain body condition and have been regular producers.
  • Look for bulls that have been born on their own at a moderate size and haven’t required extra treatments or help.
  • Consider moderate-frame bulls that display depth, thickness, large scrotal development and docility.
  • Look for bulls with offspring that have upper-ranking calving ease, stayability and good weaning-maternal-index values.

For bulls whose progeny will be sold as feeder cattle and exclusively feedlot-finished for beef, he has more advice.

  • Buy bulls from breeders and programs that may be recognized for value in their cattle and networked to help market calves at prices reflecting their superiority.
  • Look for bulls that, when mated to cows, will produce feeders that gain and convert feed to gain, finish at heavy market weights and have a high percentage of choice grade.
  • Know the farm’s limits for acceptable birth weights and calf size to maintain calving ease.
  • Look for bulls with upper rankings for growth traits, carcass marbling and high beef-feedlot-carcass indexes.

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