As we head towards spring, we are thinking about bulls. Purchasing a bull for your herd is just like hiring a new employee. Ever wondered about the bull you've hired? What do you really know about him? If he isn't suited to the job or can't do the job, why did you hire him in the first place? You've hired him to help with calf production, but can he do it? It's much easier not to hire a marginal employee than it is to fire one. So what do we need to do to find out if this bull is the employee we need in our herd?

You can start by examining his expected progeny differences (EPD). An EPD is a prediction of the difference between the average performance of an individual animal's progeny and the average progeny performance of another. This can give you insight on how his genetics may complement your cow herd relative to other "applicants" in the pool. Let's move on to the next item.

Has the bull had a breeding soundness exam (BSE)? This is a very important test. Failing this test can make you or break you financially if your bull cannot perform, especially if you only have one bull. An entire calf crop could be missed if the bull is a sub-par performer. If the bull hasn't been tested before you've purchased him, or if it is 30 to 60 days before breeding, he will need a breeding soundness exam. BSEs establish a positive identification of the bull, conduct a physical examination, examine the reproductive organs and collect semen for evaluation. However, the BSE does not show if one bull is better than another and if some venereal diseases are present.

Has the bull been tested for venereal diseases? Venereal disease in cattle can be caused by bacteria, protozoan and viral organisms. So who has this bull been around in the past? One herd? Several herds? A "virgin bull" (one that has not been placed in a cow herd) is your best bet to help avoid these diseases. Trichomoniasis and Vibriosis are only spread by venereal contact. The resulting infections usually result in the death of the embryonic calf. (Keep in mind that Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR), Johne's disease and Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) can be shed by the bull through body excretions. Test for these as well!)

But if I am renting or borrowing a bull, how can I protect my herd from diseases? Either be the first one to use him (and have a BSE performed on him) or have him tested before you let him anywhere near your cows. Your cows represent a significant investment of your time, management and money. Always consider your herd. It only takes one management mistake to haunt your herd for years.

The last question that I am concerned about is the bull's temperament. Am I going to have to worry about getting in the pasture with this new employee? If there is doubt in your mind about his temperament, don't bother with the bull. Go to the next bull on your list. Don't buy a problem!

This may sound like a lot of work; however, it will pay off in the long run. If you aren't able to wean a calf crop or you've introduced diseases into your herd, you have caused yourself considerable long-term grief - both financially and in your management. Perhaps you'll decide that with all this at stake, you'll have to get to know that bull a lot better before you'll allow him in with your cows!