Tag Archive: Buying

Bull Buying – Focus on Value Not Just Price

Bull Buying – Focus on Value Not Just Price

Selecting the right bulls are a key component to the success of any cattle operation. When market conditions are less than ideal focus on finding the right bull, not necessarily the cheapest bull.  Photo Credit: Mark Mauldin

2017 is shaping up to be another year of tight margins for cattle producers. As much as ranchers would like to limit expenses during market downturns, some expenditures can’t be postponed. Bulls fall into this category.  The necessity of having an adequate number of bulls goes without saying. When bull buying time and lackluster market conditions coincide there are a few things to keep in mind that can help prevent the situation from having a negative impact on your operation.

When making purchasing decisions, try to consider value over price. Cutting corners rarely results in a positive outcome in the long run. Buying an inferior quality bull now might save you a few dollars in initial cash outlay, but will likely cost you substantially more over the long run than purchasing a quality animal would have.  Bear in mind that the registered cattle market will also be softer this year, although the purebred market typically lags behind the movement of the commercial cattle prices.

The value associated with a bull takes many forms. One of the first forms that can go by the wayside, when buyers are thinking only about price, is the opportunity for risk management and improved calf performance that comes with purchasing a bull with known EPD values. Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) are figures that predict the performance of a bull’s calves. The science and math behind EPDs can be mind boggling, but the application of the information is fairly straightforward and should be utilized by all cattle producers. The predictive power of EPDs has significant value because it enables bull buyers to stay away from bulls whose calves have a genetic propensity towards negative traits (ie. higher birth weights), and focus on bulls whose calves will be more likely to exhibit positive traits (ie. higher weaning weights).

Purchasing a bull without data is a risk not worth taking. Think about the cost of a calf lost due to calving difficulties, or the earning potential given up by selecting a bull whose calves have substandard growth potential. Remember, a bull will sire numerous calves over his productive lifetime, so even small advantages in performance can have substantial cumulative effects. Why would you give up the opportunity to make an informed selection decision by buying a bull without data?

Assuming you are planning on utilizing performance data in your bull selection process (if not, read the previous paragraphs again), there are some basic steps that can be taken to maximize the value associated with your decision.

Step 1) Identify the type of production system in which the bull will be utilized, and what traits are most economically significant in that type of system. How will the bull’s progeny be marketed or utilized? If all progeny are sold at weaning, the list of significant traits are pretty short: calving ease and weaning weight. If heifers sired by the bull are going to be kept the list gets much longer, as all of the maternal characteristics come into play. If calves are marketed based on carcass merit, then even more factors become economically significant. Beware of single trait selection, but also recognize that you also can’t effectively select for all traits simultaneously. Focus your selection pressure on traits with the largest return on investment.

Step 2) Identify the selection tools available that address these traits. By this point in the process a decision will have to be made regarding which breed of bull you are looking for (this can be a lengthy conversation in and of itself), because the specific resources available will differ from breed to breed. There are specific EPDs that are linked to many economically significant traits. These EPDs are an excellent place to start, but when many traits are being considered simultaneously a simpler technique is to utilize Economic Selection Indices. These indices, which are expressed as $ values, incorporate the economic value of multiple EPDs. Because Economic Selection Indices consider values based on economic significance, it is crucial that bull buyers utilize an index that accurately reflects their operation.

From: Beef Cattle Economic Selection Indices By: Bob Weaber, Kansas State University

Step 3) Utilize the tools to select bulls that are the most likely to provide the greatest value to your operation. Effectively using EPDs and Indices, like any other tool, takes some practice and basic understanding. To maximize the effectiveness of the selection tools be sure you are familiar with breed averages, and percentile breakdowns for various traits. (See list below)  This will help you better understand how well the bulls you are considering stack-up within the breed. EPD accuracy (possible change), and the units of measure are also important to keep in mind to help determine what constitutes a meaningful difference between individual bulls.

Links to Breed Averages and Percentile Rankings

Following these steps should help maximize the value of your bull purchase. Price will be a factor in any purchasing decision, and rightfully so, but a bull that does not fit your system and limits your ability to generate return on investment is never a good value, regardless of the price. When financial conditions are tight it is more important than ever to limit risk and make well-informed management decisions based on a plan. When it comes to buying bulls, this means utilizing all available information, and finding a bull that provides real value to your operation.

For more information regarding any of the topics mentioned in this article contact your county’s UF/IFAS Agriculture Extension Agent.  Also, don’t forget about the Florida Bull Test Sale on January 21, 2017, which is an excellent opportunity to find a bull that can bring value to your operation.



Author: Mark Mauldin – mdm83@ufl.edu

I am the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent in Washington County. My program areas include livestock and forage, row crops, and pond management.

Mark Mauldin

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/01/13/bull-buying-focus-on-value-not-just-price/

Tips to Prepare for Bull Buying Season

J & W Heartbreaker 2582433 was the high selling lot at the Florida Bull Test Sale back in January. This Simmental Bull sold for $ 4,750 because of the combination of excellent muscling, growth, and feed efficiency.

Doug Mayo, Jackson County Extension

As the College Football season winds down there is another season that is really going strong, Bull Buying Season.  All over the nation there are opportunities to purchase replacement bulls that can improve the quality and performance of your herd.  Before you go shopping, however, you need to do some homework.

The first thing to consider is what do you want from a bull?  A bulls job is fairly simple:  breed, reproduce, work for a number of years, make genetic improvement,  and provide salvage value to help purchase a replacement.  As you go out to purchase a replacement bull, it is important that you keep these roles in mind to help you make the right purchasing decisions.

Breed & Reproduce
While you fully expect a bull to have the natural desire to breed, this is not always the case.  Most of the bulls offered for sale at purebred ranches or bull sales are virgin bulls, so that you do not risk exposure to diseases.  Libido is not something that is normally tested, since it is usually not a problem with young bulls.     Even so, not every bull has the same libido, so it is a good idea to keep an eye on them once you turn them out to make sure they are willing to do the work you bought them for.  Sometimes the issue is not with libido, but actual physical injury or abnormality.    In the rare case that you do have a problem, reputable breeders will stand behind their product.

Another more serious issue that is not so obvious is the ability to actually reproduce or father calves.  Just because you see a bull out  working does not mean he is fertile.  Every bull should be tested for fertility prior to purchase. A veterinarian can perform a Breeding Soundness Exams (BSE) to ensure bulls are physically healthy, and can produce both the quantity and quality of sperm to get the job down.  BSE’s are normally performed on bulls prior to a sale, but if you buy direct from the ranch you may have to request it.  A BSE can’t predict the future, but it can certainly ensure that a bull has the ability to settle a cow.  Consider a BSE as breeding insurance.  You don’t want to feed open cows all winter only to find that the bull did not do his job.

Figure 1

If you make the investment in a high quality bull, you want him to stay in the herd as long as possible.  One of the areas that often gets overlooked is structural correctness.  Figure 1 above shows the proper angle for front and rear leg set.  While poor structure may have little effect on young bulls, over time as they grow older and much heavier, imperfections can cause a bull to become lame.  The act of breeding puts tremendous pressure on the rear legs, and a bull with swelling and pain may not cover all of the cows in heat.  Another key factor in the longevity of a bull is temperament.  Many bulls are culled early due to bad temperament.  Not just the ability to be handled by people, but also their interest in fighting other bulls and jumping fences.  While it may be very difficult to asses behavior in just a short drive through, it is important actually walk though a group of bulls and make sure there is not an issue at a young age.  In most cases bad-tempered bulls only get worse with age.

Genetic Improvement
For most ranches the greatest improvement to the genetic performance of a herd comes from the bulls they purchase.  In just three generations, the bulls that sire calves influence 87.5% of the genes in a calf crop. (Sire 50% + Grand Sire 25% + Great-grand Sire 12.5% = 87.5%).  Since bulls contribute so much to the genetics of the herd and are normally purchased from another ranch, they are the simplest tool to use to improve the muscling and performance of your herd.  While visual appraisal of physical traits like structural correctness and muscling are very important, indexes called EPD’s are the best tool to use to evaluate the potential performance of a bulls offspring.

EPD’s or Expected Progeny Differences are an estimate of the performance of future offspring of a parent, compared to progeny of other parents in the breed.  Today there are numerous traits that are measured and estimated with EPD’s.  The numbers can seem overwhelming the first time you really try to compare bulls.  The value of EPD’s is the huge data base that allows a fair comparison with every herd within a given breed.  It would be helpful if EPD’s were reset to “0″ each year.  That would mean an average animal would be zero and a negative number would mean below average.  However, that is not considered wise marketing by the breed associations   So, you as the buyer have to know the averages to be able to judge  the potential of a bull.  Most breed associations offer a tool to help producers sort out the sea of numbers created for each animal.  Percentile tables are available to provide a guide.  Figure 2 below is a partial sample of the percentile chart for non-parent Angus Bulls.  The 50% line is the average for the breed, so if you look at a young Angus bull with a weaning weight EPD of 53 you can see from the table that he is actually in the top 25% of the breed.  But a bull with a weaning weight EPD of 45 would be below average for the breed.  This is just one trait and there are many that are measured.  This is why it is really helpful to develop some target EPD’s before you start shopping.  It also is helpful to view performance data first, to sort out the bulls you are interested in, before going to the sale or ranch.  The main thing is to know the numbers that matter before you ever start shopping and fall in love with that beautiful, fat bull that ultimately won’t improve your herd.

Figure 2

Salvage Value

If you have not been keeping up with bull prices, they have risen dramatically the past few years.  The American Angus Association reported the US average sale price for Angus breeding bulls was $ 4,627 from October of 2011 through March of 2012.  The average price at the Florida Bull Test Sale held in January was $ 2,858.  Several bull sales in the Southeast this fall have averaged from $ 3,000 to $ 3,500 per bull.  Part of the reason for the rise in price is the demand caused by the expansion of the US beef herd.  Another reason is the increase in the salvage value of bulls sold at the market for slaughter.  Figure 3 below shows the average prices for slaughter bulls in Alabama the week ending November 16.  So you can see why a budget of $ 1,500 for yearling bulls or $ 2,000 mature bulls is no longer adequate.  Bulls that will truly improve the quality of your herd are going to be much more expensive.  As you cull older bulls however, you will also have more money put down on their replacements.

Figure 3

Where to Buy Bulls
There are a number of reputable purebred cattle breeders in the Tri-State region that sell replacement breeding bulls.  There are also bull sales that offer bulls from multiple herds.   Your County Agent can provide you with contact information for purebred ranches or bull sales in your area.  For the 13th year, the University of Florida has evaluated the performance of breeding age bulls in the Florida Bull Test.  The majority of the 93 bulls enrolled in the test will be sold at auction on Saturday, January 19, 2013.  For more information on the performance of these bulls, and the upcoming sale you can go to their website:  Florida Bull Test.

But no matter where, you decide to go to purchase your replacement bulls, have a plan before you start.  Only purchase bulls that have had a BSE to ensure fertility.  Visually evaluate the bulls for muscling, correctness of structure, and temperament.  Know the EPD values of your chosen breed and have a cheat sheet to help decipher the above average bulls.  Be prepared to pay more than ever before for a good bull that will positively impact the performance of your herd for years to come.

Doug Mayo

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2012/12/01/tips-to-prepare-for-bull-buying-season/