Producers can avoid costly decisions if they go through the proper steps to purchase a bull that fits both their budget and their management and production needs, says Darrh Bullock, University of Kentucky Extension beef cattle specialist.

"In these times of economic difficulty, we're all looking for ways to help improve our bottom line,” he says. That means reducing costs, increasing income, or both.

Bullock says some producers make the mistake of trying to reduce costs in their bull purchases, but buying a cheap bull now “can cost you dearly in the future.” Bullock suggests producers follow these steps to purchase a bull that fits both their budgets and their management and production needs.

One of the first things to consider is calving difficulty. A bull that meets calving-ease needs saves on veterinarian bills and other associated costs, Bullock says. Producers can also impact their future feed costs by selecting the right genetic match for the environment and management flow of their operations.

"If you have minimal forage quality and/or quantity, the bull's genetics for growth and milk should reflect that if you plan to keep replacement heifers," Bullock says. "If you keep heifers that have high genetic potential for growth and milk, they will demand more feed to remain reproductive. If producers can't meet that demand through forages, they may have to supplement with a large volume of costly purchased feeds to get them bred."

Bullock says increased weaning weights are often producers’ thought in increasing income. While weight is important, it's the total weight of calves coming off the farm that's the main focus, not individual calf weights, he says.

"That could lead to an imbalanced situation of highly productive cows in a lowly productive environment and that will drive up costs, possibly more than the increased income," he says. "The best way to increase total pounds produced is through improved reproductive efficiency, and the best way to improve reproductive efficiency is to properly match your bull's productivity to the production levels of your operation."

The best way to contain costs and generate more income when selecting a bull is to find the right bull for your situation. “And that might not be the same as your neighbors'," Bullock says.

An operation with high production levels will benefit from a high-producing bull, but the same bull on a less-productive operation may cost the operator more money and income in the future, he says.
-- Aimee Nielson, University of Kentucky