Purchasing a Bull
I have officially worn out my sport utility vehicle and have begun the search to purchase another. My first inclination is to seek one just like it, yet newer, with the same package of extras – “trim”. How can I go wrong with this simplistic strategy? I probably do not need anything fancier than I have been accustomed to over the past eight years. Yet, maybe I will upgrade and add a few of the bells and whistles, since the newer technology is pretty amazing. As I began shopping for a new vehicle, I started to sense a feeling of the stark similarities between evaluating cars and evaluating livestock. This one has a little more daylight underneath it; the red one has less carrying capacity; this one has eye appeal, that one is wider, longer and has nice lines. Structural soundness, a good view from the rear and decent resale value also come to mind. The similarities of buying a new car are very parallel to buying a new bull. Suddenly, I became very serious about my quest.
Buying a herd bull requires patience and planning. Start with a list of the specifications that fit your needs in breed, frame size, muscling and price. Ask a lot of questions to ensure that you are getting exactly what you want or at least, exactly what you need.
New vs. Certified Pre-Owned
Virgin bulls will ensure against bringing venereal diseases such as trichomoniasis and vibriosis into a herd. Bovine leukemia (BLV), Johnes and Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) can also be avoided through screening tests and herd health histories. Have a conversation with your veterinarian about how to prevent entry of these diseases and others into your herd.
Make sure every purchased bull has successfully passed a breeding soundness examination(BSE) by a qualified veterinarian, deeming him as a satisfactory potential breeder. Sidebar: bulls retained from previous years should also be tested. This is not a guarantee of reproductive success, but a minimum standard.
Safety and Ease of Handling
Temperament is important; herd bulls should be easy to handle. Calving ease is likely important in your herd as well. Purebred bulls typically have well documented statistics of their genetic contribution to produce and deliver a calf easily. Ask for a copy of the bull’s EPDs before you buy.
New Technology Available
Genomics uses DNA profiles to better evaluate what traits a bull can pass on to his daughters even before he has any daughters on the ground. Genomics are very useful in identifying traits that are hard to measure on individual animals such as feed intake and efficiency, carcass traits, productivity and longevity. Rapid genetic improvement is now easier than ever.
Pricing and Reviews
What is a bull worth? A valuable bull may contribute to the longevity of cows in your herd. I want a bull that produces daughters worth looking at for the next 8 to 10 years. Fertile daughters. I want awesome feet and legs, udders with amazing teats and enough milk to get a decent weaning weight. What are you looking for? The real value of a bull meant to genetically improve maternal traits in a cow/calf herd may not be realized for a couple years as his daughters begin production. A bull selected to improve carcass traits, weaning and yearling weights may prove his added value after his first calf crop is sent to market.
Your purchased bull is a depreciable asset, just like a farm truck or tractor. He should also retain a decent resale value when you are ready to trade him in for a younger model. Consider that he is 50% of the genetics in your calf crop and exponentially more influential in changing and hopefully, improving the genetics in your cow herd. If his heifers are retained, his genetics can potentially remain in your herd indefinitely. Determining where a bull can add value to a herd will justify the level of investment needed to get there.
Do not rush into buying a bull. Take inventory of your needs and objectives to improve your herd. Do not be afraid to set goals and upgrade; your return on investment will be measurable. Settling for a plain stripped down model may leave money on the table for pounds of beef, milk or desired herd improvements. Buying a new bull is extremely similar to buying a new car: kick the proverbial tires, ask the right questions and order the important options that fit your business model. Don’t get stuck with a lemon!