A Whole Lotta Bull!

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!

Two of our herdsires enjoying a spring day on the ranch.

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.

Our 2011 herd sire purchase

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.

This years herd sire 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.

Troy scanning a yearling bull for a customer.

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.

Troys machine showing the marbling, or intramuscular fat. The dark vertical lines in the middle of the picture is the ribs and the white above is the marbling in the bulls muscle.

The picture from above (from the ultrasound machine) shows up Troys computer. When he is finished withe the scan session, it is saved to a flashdrive so it can be emailed to the breed association. The data will be recorded and then used by bull buyers.

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!

A ribeye on Troys computer screen. The dark in the middle of the screen is the muscle and the small white specks is the marbling in the "steak." The white around the picture is the fat around the ribeye.

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!


About Husker Cowgirl

I am a regional sales manager for Turnkey Computer Systems feedyard accounting software and an avid Husker fan. I am passionate about agriculture and especially beef cattle. I enjoy ranching the old fashioned way - using horses. I also enjoy taking my horses to town and competing with them at local, state and national events on the weekends.
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