Beef Cattle Bull Selection and Management
For many cattle producers, there comes a time of year when important
decisions are made regarding the cow herd. Many producers begin to receive sale catalogs, view sale
publications, and may be receiving calls from previous bull suppliers. It is important for producers to make
sound judgments about their herd sires. A poor bull buying decision might leave a producer with a product
they don’t need or don’t want in their herd. On the other hand, a good bull buying decision will increase the
producer’s chances of having a more profitable calf crop.
Why is bull selection important?
Bull selection, on average, has a greater impact on the genetic improvement of a
herd than most producers realize. Because the sire is more likely to produce a higher number of calves
in his lifetime compared to a cow, a sire has the potential to contribute a larger portion of the genes to the
herd. Because of the large genetic contribution a sire makes to a herd of animals, it is important to manage
the risk associated with the purchase of a new bull. Fortunately, the level of risk associated with the
selection of a new bull is manageable using well planned breeding programs and high quality information.
Setting Herd Goals
A good breeding plan is very useful when establishing both short and long-term
herd goals. Many times, we fail to spend adequate time defining our selection priorities. Most
successful cattle managers have a written plan and a list of both short and long term goals for their cow
herds. Their goals are well defined, achievable, and revised on an annual basis.
Where do you start?
The answer to this question is not straightforward because of the diversity within the
cattle industry. Therefore, a producer should assess their current position in the industry and ask
themselves several questions:
What type of cattle do I produce?
What industry segment(s) do I belong to (cow-calf, stocker, feeder,
What impact do my cattle have on different industry segment(s)?
The next logical step is to determine the current status of the herd for performance
and profitability. It is difficult to make improvements in a herd’s performance and profitability when the
present status is unknown. It is necessary to evaluate current performance records, herd averages, costs of
production, and sources of revenue. Having an established starting position makes it easier to develop goals
for genetic improvement.
Many cattle producers are able to determine their herd’s performance level because they
record information on the performance of their cow herd. For example, a producer might record birth weights,
weaning weights, and yearling weights. Unfortunately, the average cattle producer does not maintain the same
level of information for the financial status of their operation. For some producers, it is difficult for
them to quote their current average cost per cow. If costs and revenue are well known, the task of
determining the economic importance of traits is easier.
How often do you think about the goals of your customer? Do you know who your
customer is? If you take the time to study most successful businesses, a majority of them have a customer
evaluation system to determine customer satisfaction. This same principle must apply to the cattle industry
and our herd goals must be synchronized with the goals of our clients. Understanding the needs of our
customers is a necessary step to deciding which bull is best and an important start to understanding the needs of