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Just Your standard Bull

published: February 9th 2018
by: Michael Sturgess

Do numbers matter? Some would strongly argue yes—some are undecided—while others strongly say they don’t! In the case of utilizing Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs)—where do you stand?

Many bull buyers place the most value in a bull’s physical appearance, i.e. his structure, thickness of muscle, amount of bone and his ability to travel. Others place more value on a bull’s actual performance data—his birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, his ratios against his contemporaries, his weight per day of age or his average daily gain on a performance test. Much has also been said as of late about feed efficiency, or his actual feed conversion rate.
Yet there are others that study the EPDs and state that their candidates for purchase must carry minimum standards on certain EPD traits or breed indexes, such as weaning and yearling EPDs.
Most would agree that a balance of “all of the above” may be a good approach. For example, it really doesn’t matter how big a bull’s weaning and yearling weights are if the bull has bad feet or hocks and can’t service your cows. Or, a non-parent bull could rank in the top 10% of the breed for Weaning Weight (WW) and Yearling Weight (YW) EPD’s, yet still sire calves that are too big at birth or aren’t fertile enough or aren’t aggressive breeders.
The point is this. Achieving a balance of desirable traits is always a good thing. And, if you choose bulls with good numbers, choose them from breeders who believe in the numbers as well. For example, if I decide to increase the milking ability of my cowherd, I will only make limited, if any, progress by selecting one bull with better milk numbers. However, if I keep the daughters of this bull and support his milk numbers by using other sires with good milk numbers, then all of a sudden, I will see progress in the milking ability of my cow herd.
If you are a commercial breeder and you are buying bulls to sell all the calves at weaning or as yearlings, then perhaps you are not as concerned about milk numbers. And if you aren’t breeding heifers, then you may not need to place a great deal of emphasis on calving ease. So, let’s just say your primary focus would be on WW & YW EPDs. And, let’s further establish that you want bulls with minimum criteria—let’s say we are going to select bulls that rank in the top 20% or greater for both WW & YW EPDs.
Now, let’s further assume that we go through the candidates that fit our criteria and deduct from our list those that are not sound, or do not fit the physical requirements needed for your particular operation. Some may be too large in frame or too small in frame for your needs. So, we now have settled upon a number of candidates that have the potential to help you and your operation. Of the remaining bulls, which of them will help you the most?
Remember, in this example, you don’t have the luxury of keeping daughters and supporting their performance numbers with bulls that also have good numbers. In this example, you are selling all of the progeny at weaning or as yearlings. Your best option then is to buy bulls that are backed by several generations of excellent WW & YW performance. You don’t believe me? Let me share with you another example.
Let’s say you need a calving ease bull to breed to heifers. Which of the 2 bulls in this example do you think will give you the best odds at siring low birth weight calves that give you the least problems at calving? Example 1 bull is a son of the top EPD bull in the breed for low birth weight with a -3.0 BW EPD. Example 2 bull also has a -3 BW EPD, but instead of being out of the top bull, he has 3 different sires in his pedigree that are known to be low BW or calving ease bulls. Odds are, the bull in example 2 will be a more reliable calving ease bull because he is backed by 3 generations of good calving ease numbers.
If you are going to buy by the numbers, buy from breeders who breed with the numbers in mind. Don’t expect the numbers on cattle bred for the show ring to mean as much when those cattle were not necessarily bred with the numbers in mind. Now, does that mean that cattle bred for shows don’t grow, or won’t supply you with calves that wean big calves? Absolutely not. But what it does mean is you should place more emphasis on their individual performance, and the performance of other animals in their pedigree if you want to select individual candidates that have the potential to wean bigger calves.
You may also be one of those guys that the only number that means anything to you is the price of the bull. If a potential bull costs more than “x” number of dollars, then I will look at another bull. If you fall into this latter category of bull buyer—then I lost your attention at the end of paragraph one above anyway.

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