Cattlemen know buying bulls is a decision that they have to live with for years. Most bull sales take place in the first four months of the year. For this reason, we thoroughly study genetics and sale offerings this time of year. Right now, our kitchen table is littered with bull sale catalogs and sire directories. Last night I had a hard time finding a corner to eat my supper from!
I say that we have to live with our decision for years, and that’s why we spend a lot of time weeding through catalogs making our top picks. When we purchase a bull this spring, his calves won’t be born till next spring. The steer calves will enter a feedyard the following winter and four months later will make tasty steaks and hamburgers. The heifer calves will be raised to calve as two year olds. So this springs bull purchasing decisions will have a lasting effect years to come. We live with our decision for two years before we know the full effect the bull will have on our cowherd.
Unlike other farm animal species, cows raise one offspring a year. Pigs, sheep and of course poultry have multiple offspring per year. If one genetic decision doesn’t work for those species, they can change their genetic turnaround with the next generation rather quickly. Plus those species have a lot fewer days from birth to market, unlike a cow. That’s why we spend a lot of time deciding what bulls to purchase.
There are many factors that influence our decisions – calving ease, maternal traits, carcass merit, growth, feed efficiency, disposition, pedigree and phenotype (how easy on the eye they are). We study catalogs and sire directories hard decide which bulls will complement our cow herd the best. Sometimes I think I study these books harder than I studied for exams in college!
Troy is a certified beef ultrasound technician. After college, he went to school to become certified and started his own business. He stays busy during the winter “scanning” yearling bulls. When he does this, he uses ultrasound technology to measure an animal’s ribeye area (REA), marbling or intramuscular fat (IMF), rib fat and rump fat. These measurements allow bull buyers to make more informed decisions on which bulls would work best on their cows. If a farmer or rancher’s calves need more muscling, they would select a bull with a larger ribeye area, as REA is an indicator of muscling. If his calves need more marbling in the meat, then he would select a bull that has a high IMF.
When we attend bull sales, we pick out 3 or 4 bulls that will complement our cow herd and bid on those. If we aren’t the winning bidder (think Ebay!!!) we go home with an empty trailer. There is always another sale! Going home with an empty trailer is always better than an impulse purchase we will regret later.
There are many factors that influence bull buying decisions. Each bull selected should improve the farmer or ranchers calves in at least one trait area, and using ultrasound technology is just one selection tool. All these selection tools we have now help us purchase a whole lotta bull!
Thank goodness for modern day technology and internet connections through a smartphone – I am blogging as Troy and I are on our way to Hyannis, Nebraska to ultrasound bulls!