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Study Up Before Bidding Up That Bull

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Make sure to do your homework before buying new herd bulls this sale season.

Production sales are in full swing, and if your kitchen table looks like mine, it’s filled with sale catalogs, ads, fliers and various promotions pushing different breeds, value-added programs and the hottest bulls of the year. It can be easy to get lost in the hype of a well-advertised bull, and fat and pampered cattle sure look nice at the sale, but it’s important to do your due diligence before buying your next herd bull.

Jim Krantz, South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension cow-calf field specialist, offers advice for making decisions when purchasing cattle online.

“Do your homework. Whether it's online or at a cattle auction, producers should think about several factors before buying calves. One of the easiest things to do, whether looking at cattle online or in a sale catalog, is to scratch off the ones you won't buy first. Cattle that are carriers of genetic defects, or ones with poor expected progeny differences (EPDs) can be eliminated first. This will help keep your focus on your goals, so you don't fall in love with something just because it looks good on sale day or in the picture or video. Stick to your priorities and narrow down the selection,” says Krantz.

Key considerations involve asking several questions of the cattle and the rancher:

Who is the family behind the business? What values do they have? What guarantees do they offer on the cattle after the sale is complete? Will they deliver? How long will they keep the cattle? Are there genetic defects in the cattle offering? What are the EPDs? What are your goals for your operation, and which cattle offered in the sale might help you reach those goals? And, do you have a market for the cattle you are purchasing?

With so much to consider – EPDs, genomic data, rate of gain, genetic defects, previous history, etc., Krantz cautions buyers not to get overwhelmed with all of the information offered by a breeder.

“I call it information overload. For the average commercial cattleman, I recommend just sticking to the basics; don't get bogged down with all the extras. How will this new herd sire or heifer help your operation? Look at the important factors such as milk, disposition, birth weight and weaning weight. These are the fundamentals; leave the rest to the seedstock producers. Be comfortable with your own priorities and use your goals to help make your purchasing decisions,” he says.

Krantz says buyers should never feel rushed to make such big and expensive decisions.

“You don't have to make fast decisions at a sale if you do your homework first. It all goes back to homework first. With a few clicks, you can find plenty of information online. We no longer need to make breeding decisions based on trial and error. Ranchers shouldn't be afraid to ask advice from other breeders, mentors or the sellers themselves. A good operation will help you find the cattle that fit your needs first. Asking for advice is the best thing producers, both young and old, can do for their own operations. Take the time to look at calves out of a sire you are looking at using. Take the guesswork out of it by doing your homework,” he adds.

As you travel to bull sales this winter, what are your top priorities? What data provided is most important to you? How hot have the sales been in your area so far? Give us the full sales report in the comments section below.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

Brian Reed (not verified)
on Jan 30, 2012

Bull sales are decent in Texas. With so much herd reduction from the dought last year, a lot of our bulls are going out of state. I think many of the producers here are cautiously optimistic about the coming spring. I live in the panhandle and we are still in severe drought, but other parts of the state are greening up.

My personal take on bull selection is this. Seller reputation is very important. EPD's can be fudged by the data a producer turns in. If you are buying a yearling or two-year old bull, most likely he is totally unproven and his EPD's are only a guess. Sure, eliminate the outliers, but after that, you had better know the pedigrees of the cattle, how those bloodlines have worked in your herd before, the reputation of the breeder, accuracies on the EPD's of the parents, etc. I think accuracy of the EPD is more important than the EPD itself. If you don't understand accuracy, contact your extension beef specialist or the animal science genetics professor at your state's land grant university.

on Jan 30, 2012

Good advice, Brian. Hope your area is relieved from the drought soon!

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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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