My View From The Country

How Much Is A Good Bull Worth?

When you put economic parameters to EPDs with today’s prices and feed costs, there should be more price spread on bulls than there actually is.

I received several emails last week questioning my comments about the increased value of genetics and whether one can justify the record prices we’re seeing for bulls. So, I spent some time looking at the numbers between bulls with very solid EPD profiles and comparing them to breed average bulls. 

As much for simplicity as anything else, I assumed that a bull would sire 100 calves over its lifetime.

  • From personal experience, bulls with calving ease (CE) numbers in the top 10% of the breed can easily be expected to have three or more live calves out of 100, compared with an average CE bull. At today’s prices, that figure is conservatively $2,100 (using $1.40/lb. for 500-lb. calves).
  • It’s harder to put a good number on carcass traits – for instance, how much will an increase in intramuscular fat actually affect percentage of USDA Choice, or upper 2/3 of Choice?
  • Carcass weight is easier to value but, looking at the data, a bull in the top 20% vs. an average bull will easily return an additional $30. That equates to an additional $3,000.
  • The value of replacement females becomes very significant when you consider longevity, the added growth, added carcass, added fertility, etc. I believe those values will easily double the amount returned on the carcass front.

There are a lot of other traits like feed efficiency that also become significant. But ignoring all of them and assuming nothing more than the easily quantified traits, and assuming that all 100 calves are marketed, the value of the above-average bull compared to the average of a particular breed is over $7,500.

Trying to be even more conservative, let’s assume you only realize half that value. The bottom line is that if someone tried to give you an average bull, you still would be better off paying over $3,500 for that better-than-average bull.

In reality, when you try to put economic parameters to EPDs with today’s prices and feed costs, the better argument is that there should be more price spread on bulls than there actually is. As is the case with the commercial marketplace, it appears the higher-priced bulls are actually under-valued, while the lower-priced animals are overvalued.

Discuss this Blog Entry 7

Bob Neese (not verified)
on Mar 2, 2012

A timely article, with all the bull sales coming up....especially one less than 3 weeks away in Burlington, CO....with so many well above average bulls! LOL
Out here in Missouri, looks like a lot of us are still "giving away" not just our average, but above average bulls. Judging from western sales I've seen this year, Greely's admonition to "Go West" would work best if one is selling bulls. "Go East", if you're a buyer.

Kent Hanawalt (not verified)
on Jul 7, 2014

I'm way behind at reading this post and the comments, but I am gfete ( grinning from ear to ear) about all of the "above average" bulls. Brings to mind Garrison Keillor and Lake Woebegone - where "all of the children are above average".

Steve Hammack (not verified)
on Mar 8, 2012

Troy: I completely agree that superior bulls often more than return their cost. But I also think we sometimes don't realize how hard it is to find bulls that are superior in several traits.

I went into the Angus Association sire selector and searched for sires at 10% or above for Calving Ease Direct and 20% or above for Carcass Weight (the levels you list in your article) and then, to account for value due to traits you also suggested, added a requirement for 20% or above for Heifer Pregnancy, Calving Ease Maternal, and Marbling.

The search returned 1 sire, born 10 years ago.

Steve Hammack

Terry O'Neill (not verified)
on Jun 14, 2013

Timely article,Troy!Hope all is well your way and that you are dodging the fires.100 calves take how many breeding seasons...4 or 5?Should one mention the discounted value of say $3,500 at present value?I would argue that the difference in the $3,500 and it present value would be more than covered by additional value not accredited to the better bull.Additionally ,did you credit hybrid vigor growth due to a cross bred calf?If not would this not account for between 25# to 50# per calf?This also effects the fertility of the retained hiefer replacement and therefore the earlier breed up and thus calf weight due to age alone of the hiefer's calf.Any idea on evaluating the value of disposition to 100 calves/Sure appreciate your writings!

KFielding (not verified)
on Jan 10, 2014

In "Effect of Disposition on Feedlot Gain and Quality
Grade" by Busby (2006), it is $62.19 between a docile and aggressive disposition. That means, when a feedlot buys all docile cattle, for each 1,000 head they grow out, it will save them $62,190. That's significant. And although that figure affects only the final owner, we lose time dealing with the aggressive cattle while working them, have unnecessary injuries to ourselves and our workers, and we also will have more damage to facilities and have to use more sturdy facilities (i.e. more expensive). It is a win:win situation to have docile cattle for everyone. A bull is 50% of your operation. To have a great bull is worth a lot of money when he produces live calves with added IMF and added docility.

on Aug 12, 2016

Hello all, I am new to this industry and so far I have been very impressed with all the articles I have neen reading. I have a quick question regarding pure bred vs. cross bred cattle. I am considering ranching a pure bred heard of Angus cattle, but I have been reading up on the subject and it seems to me that I would be better off managing a cross breed herd of cattle with a base breed of anugus cows cross bred with a beef bull of some kind but not sure which breed. Open to comments and suggestions on where I can get more informayion regarding this topic. Thank you.

on Aug 12, 2016

Your question is one that just about everybody struggles with at some time or another. There are certainly advantages to crossbreeding, but it requires a more rigorous management system than straight-bred calves. And crossbreeding is more easily managed with a larger herd and enough pastures to keep the rotation going instead of just producing mongrels.

Depending on how many cows you plan to run, a straight-bred system might be the best consideration. Contact your county Extension agent or area or University beef Extension specialist. Those folks will have plenty of information to help you decide.

Burt Rutherfordsystem may be

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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