Identify your farm’s breeding goals before buying a bull

by Jonathan Wort

Jonathan Wort Headshot.jpg

The new year is a period of optimism and anticipation for most people. For many cow-calf producers, it signals the start of calving season and the arrival of a new crop of calves. It is a period of excitement and hard work for all involved. It is also an opportunity to see the impact of the bull that you have used to breed your cows.

Some of you in the coming months will make the decision to purchase a new bull. It is not long until the Balamore Farm “Thickness Sells” Bull Sale at the Atlantic Stockyards near Truro, N.S., on March 23 and the Maritime Beef Testing Society’s annual breeding stock sale in Nappan, N.S., on April 6. The purchase of a new breeding bull has a big impact on your farm and future farm income. Getting the right bull could make the difference between profit and loss on many farms.

While a bull is a small part of your herd in terms of the total animal number, he has a huge impact on your herd’s genetics. Half the genetic makeup of every calf comes from the bull. In addition, if you retain heifers sired by that bull for breeding, he has an influence on your herd’s overall genetics for as long as you retain those heifers as breeding animals.

Purchasing a bull is a major decision that will have a long-term impact on your herd. Your goal should be to make a purchase that will improve the overall performance of your herd, not just to get your cows bred! That is not said to diminish the importance of the bull settling the cows early in the breeding period. But remember that the bull’s genetic influence is the most critical factor in your herd’s overall performance, other than your feeding and nutrition program.

With this in mind, how should you approach the purchase of a bull? You need to start by critically looking at what is going on in the herd. Are you happy with the herd’s overall conformation and performance, as well as with the calves you’re producing and ultimately selling? Look at your records. Did you have a lot of calving problems? Are you happy with the weaning weights? Were you happy with the calves? Are the calves what the market is looking for? Do you have a weakness in your cow herd that you want to address?

Honestly and critically asking questions like these can help you identify the characteristics you will need in your breeding bull. The purchase of a bull that has the genetic characteristics to address the issues you identify will help you move forward with a sound breeding program. It will be the difference between just buying a bull and buying a bull that will have a positive impact on your herd and long-term farm profitability.

Once you have identified your breeding goals, looking for a new bull can still be a challenge. The good news is that we have a lot of good seedstock breeders in the Maritimes who take much pride in producing breeding cattle that work well in our environment. Talk to your neighbours and find out who the breeders are that they trust. Visit the breeders’ farms, look at their cattle, and see if their breeding and management programs are similar to yours. Look at the performance data available on the bulls you are interested in and select one that has the genetic characteristics you are looking for.

Attend the breeding stock sales like those in Truro and Nappan. But go as an educated buyer with a goal for your purchase. If you do that, you may well be surprised to find out that the bull that best fits your needs is not the highest-selling bull in the sale.

If you need help identifying your breeding goals and the genetics in a bull that would help you achieve those goals, your provincial livestock specialist, your vet, or an experienced breeder would be happy to help you.

(Jonathan Wort is a livestock specialist with Perennia Food and Agriculture Inc. based in Bible Hill, N.S.)