Spring breeding season has arrived, and many cattle producers are likely thinking about selecting their next herd sire. This one decision could affect their profitability drastically, and with the stress of calving season, it is easy to get lost in all the sire information and make an investment that could be detrimental to the bottom line.
Bob Weaber, associate professor of beef breeding and genetics at Kansas State University, said it is important for cattle producers to think about their operation’s breeding objective and goals. Producers need to evaluate their current herd performance attributes and consider where they are performing adequately as well as areas of needed improvement.
Preparation before purchase. Like most things, preparation is crucial to bull buying. Weaber recommends that producers think about their marketing end point and put selection pressure on those areas.
If marketing or maintaining replacement heifers, for example, bulls with strong maternal predictors would be desired. In this case, producers should focus on expected progeny differences (EPDs) such as calving ease, milk and cow energy value. If marketing calves at weaning, growth EPDs should be the focus. If marketing calves on a grid, bulls with desired carcass predictors are the best choice.
In addition to the end point focus, Weaber encouraged producers to consider immediate and long-term goals. Focusing on herd rebuilding, resource limitations and retaining replacement heifers might need to be thought out. Choosing between cross and straight breeding should also be part of the selection process.
"I encourage producers, if they are thinking of or are in a cross-breeding system, to develop a planned system. Don't make a decision on short notice; you'll pay for that for a number of years," Weaber said.
"The decisions we make buying bulls (now) will have a lasting impact on our cow herd until at least 2025," he said. "The first-born daughters of bulls will grow a couple of years and be in production likely six, seven or eight calving cycles."
Live inspection important. Bull buying is a significant investment for producers, and Weaber said no one knows the bulls better than the seller. He suggested that producers take the opportunity to get recommendations from the seller. Local extension agents could also provide assistance in matching a producer’s goals to bulls available for purchase.
When examining bulls, focus heavily on structure, he said. The foot and leg structure of bulls is crucial to their longevity in the herd.
Use genetic predictors carefully for herd rebuilding. With cow herd rebuilding still in progress in the U.S., Weaber offered advice on selecting herd sires to make the most valuable replacement daughters.
Calving ease is one of the most important genetic traits for producers to consider.
“As producers, one of the things we need to focus on is how to minimize dystocia,” Weaber said. “An effective way do that is use of calving ease EPDs."
He noted that two kinds of calving ease EPDs exist: calving ease direct and calving ease maternal. Calving ease direct is based on the percentage of unassisted calves born from a particular sire when mated to first-calf heifers; the calving ease direct EPD is desired when breeding virgin heifers to decrease dystocia events. Calving ease maternal is based on the percentage of unassisted calves born to daughters of a particular bull, i.e., how easily a sire’s daughters calve.
"It is important, as we build replacement heifers, that we put some emphasis on the maternal calving ease component for the long term,” Weaber said. “Unfortunately, in beef cattle, calving ease direct and calving ease maternal have a negative genetic association. If we select only on calving ease direct over time and don’t put any pressure on maternal calving ease, maternal calving ease will get progressively worse over time.
“Fortunately, seedstock producers are putting upward pressure on both of those traits, so now we can find a good number of bulls in the market that have desirable calving ease direct and calving ease maternal EPDs,” he added.
One of the challenges in making bull selections is that producers often have to sort through dozens of EPDs. Selection indexes are designed around a specific end point to help guide producers. Weaber said producers should pick the selection index that most closely matches their breeding, production and marketing scenario.