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Don’t Be Fooled By A Pretty Bull Picture

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Do your research before you buy your next herd bull.

It’s bull sale season, and that means seedstock producers are looking for help from graphic designers, advertisers, marketers and photographers. These professionals offer a keen eye and a creative outlook to make a set of bulls stand out in the crowd. This time of year, my mailbox is crammed full of bull sale catalogs, fliers and pamphlets -- all glossy and smooth, with the promise that each bull photographed is better than the next.

And, while a pretty picture can certainly help a seedstock producer sell his cattle, a buyer would be wise to look deeper into his next purchase. As a purebred breeder myself, I know that a good picture is a useful tool for our customers to view, especially if they are purchasing a bull sight unseen. However, other tools such as EPDs, carcass data and DNA information should also be evaluated by a commercial cattleman looking for his next herd sire. I certainly encourage our customers to read the data that goes along with each bull.

Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University Extension beef specialist, offers a great reminder for folks attending cattle auctions this time of year to do your homework before raising your hand to bid on a bull.

“We enjoy pictures, but we also should enjoy data. Bulls may be very similar in phenotype, in other words the picture, but their genotype may have no similarity at all.

“The point is that true bull selection rests with understanding the data. The action of buying bulls should be a process of sorting through the data first and then looking at the bull.

“The process of buying bulls actually is, or at least should be, fairly methodical. Although data terms may baffle a bull buyer, always check out what the trait abbreviations and the many expected progeny differences (EPDs) values mean. The breed association websites have good glossaries or just ask other breeders.

“Keep in mind that no picture is going to relay the information that is needed. Only breed association EPD data will, which is critical in making long-lasting bull decisions. Great bulls have great numbers. Learn to read them and just don't bid on poor bulls.”

Seedstock producers need to be transparent and not hide behind pretty photoshopped images of their bulls. Backed by solid numbers, the good bulls will still find their way to the top. As a buyer, the hope is always that you can afford what your homework has revealed as your top pick.

In fact, BEEF readers reported in a recent survey published in BEEF’s February issue that they expect the strong market for bulls seen in the last year or two to continue into 2013.

Of those who bought bulls in 2012, 22.1% paid $2,000 to $2,999; 15.4% paid $3,000 to $3,499; and 10.1% paid from $3,500 to $3,999. A few (8.1%) went bargain shopping, paying from $1,000 to $1,999, but just as many (8.5%) paid from $4,000 to $4,499, while 3.6% paid from $4,500 to $4,999, and 7.5% paid more than $5,000.

And those planning to buy bulls in 2013, don’t expect prices to back up any. Most (51.3%) think prices will resemble those of 2012, while 25.9% expect higher prices. Only 2.4% expect prices to be less than 2012, while 20.4% don’t plan to buy bulls in 2013.

The majority of those who anticipate higher bull prices in 2013, at 57.7%, think prices will jump 10-15%, while 30.3% expect an increase of 10% or less. Only 9.1% expect prices to increase 16-20% and 2.9% expect prices to increase by more than 20%.

Are you in the market to buy a bull or several bulls this year? If so, which breed do you prefer? How have sales been averaging in your neck of the woods?

Discuss this Blog Entry 12

Yvonne Ridder, Falling Timber Farm (not verified)
on Jan 31, 2013

Great timing---we are setting up our Bull Selection Day Catalog for Mar. 16 sale. We totally agree that the epds, ultrasound information, performance information, and dna testing against genetic defects offers the buyer a huge amount of information that can be studied before they ever see the bull. Of course visual appraisal is also important but buyers are starting to understand that mountain of data we provide is extremely valuable.

Mike Holden, Holden' s Maines (not verified)
on Jan 31, 2013

Excellent article and topic!
While we all want to enjoy the "look" of our cattle, the most important attributes of our cattle are "seen" in their numbers(data). I put together a packet for my prospective buyers showing them a calculated value (conservative) my bulls should be worth to them. With the beef inventory where it is today and prices for both market and cull animals where they are today a good data-backed bull priced at $3000-3500 costs the commercial cattleman virtually nothing and I can show them how because I have the data to back me up.
I really enjoy reading BEEF magazine and your BEEF Daily keep up the good work!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 31, 2013

Data is absolutely paramount but visual appraisal (not necessarily a doctored photo) is necessary as well. I have seen way too many bulls bred by the numbers and with reams of inaccurate DNA marker tests that were unsound and infertile. If they haven't got that-- they haven't got much.

Jack Cummings (not verified)
on Feb 1, 2013

Is this a miss print or did you mean to write "inaccurate DNA"? I didn't know there was such a thing as inaccurate DNA.

steve roth (not verified)
on Jan 31, 2013

Why do they have judging teams if there is data. If you don't know confirmation data is all that's left. Phenotype should matter unless one breeds in10 acres. Fat covers a lot of faults and who will buy a bull that isn't?

Rodney Roberson (not verified)
on Jan 31, 2013

Interesting piece Amanda. Apparently, you still don't trust the EPD fully. Basing bull selection on EPD, DNA, and carcass data can be confusing and misguided. EPD use animal performance (the real phenotype), carcass ultrasound data and in some cases DNA marker data in a science-based, properly weighted manner that simplifies the process. Use the EPD for the characters that are important to you program.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 31, 2013

Best piece you have written in a while. I shake my head when I see the bulls some folks use. then i look at their calf crop and I nod in confirmation of what I thought.

Shirley Betzner (not verified)
on Feb 1, 2013

Where can one go.... or how can one learn how to read what all the numbers/abbrev. and percentages mean, when reading about the bulls in the catalogue??

Jack Cummings (not verified)
on Feb 1, 2013

My suggestion is to start with the owner of the bulls you are looking at. They should be presenting the information in a way that it is easy to understand. Next place to look is the breed association of the breed you are looking at. I know in my case wtih my Angus bulls I start with your cows. What type of improvement are you looking for? Keep in mind what might be important to you might not be meassured by some of the numbers you are looking at.

Jack Cummings (not verified)
on Feb 1, 2013

I don't trust EPDs, give me DNA, Ultra Sound data and visual to see if it has good feet & legs. I live in Dairy country and the reason EPDs work in the Dairy industry is because they have third party testers. In the beef industry we have too many variables, look at birth weight as one example. My favorite question this year at Denver was whenever someone would mention birth weight I would ask “how do you measure birth weight?”. I got answers all over the board, and this data makes up a number that people use to make a decision based on one bull having a number just one digit lower than another. The birth weight EPD has become a marketing number, my Angus bull customers don't want a bull with a number over +3.9 because they think it has something to do with calving ease.

Logan Taylor (not verified)
on Feb 5, 2013

I think that the beef industry is far beyond the point of judging animals by phenotype. It doesn't matter how beautiful an animal is on the outside, what you eat is on the inside

on Feb 8, 2013

The bull buyer I had here yesterday was handed a data sheet on each bull and a data sheet on each bull's feed efficiency. He stuck the second sheet in his pocket and never looked at it again. He bought 2 bulls. Most buyers study the feed efficiency sheet, however.r

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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