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Six tips for buying the right bull

Buying a stud bull and introducing new genetics to your beef cattle herd is one of the most critical farm management decisions you can make. It affects your operation for years to come, so it’s important to get it right. Here are five tips to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.

1. Know your goals

There is no single “best bull” at the sales. There is the best bull for your farm (and your budget). Before you even think of buying a bull, consider how you could better meet the needs of your market.

The right bull can introduce genetics to your herd that will address any shortcomings and lead to greater profits. Mind you, don’t look to improve every facet of your herd performance through one purchase. That will make finding the right bull almost impossible and reduce the gains you can make quickly by focusing on a couple of issues.

2. Analyse your data

To achieve your goals (or set the right ones), it’s crucial to analyse your livestock data. With a clear and accurate understanding of the performance of your herd , you can identify where you need to make improvements.

AgriWebb’s Individual Animal Management feature provides automatic insights to understand your livestock at an individual level, to uncover even more opportunities to increase productivity.

Questions you should be able to explore through livestock data include:

  • Which animals are performing well?
  • Is weight gain all it could be?
  • Are there shortcomings in fertility (scanning, calving, weaning %)?
  • Which animals are maintaining condition scores?
  • Where is my operation efficient?
  • Where is my operation inefficient?
  • What do I need to increase performance/efficiency?

Analysing your livestock data will give you a framework to assess EBVS (see below).

3. Explore EBV’s

To improve your herd, you’ll need a handle on beef cattle genetics, and how it affects your breeding program. That’s where BREEDPLAN comes in. The beef cattle performance evaluation scheme is a computer-aided system that gives bulls estimated breeding values (EBVs).

EBVs, expressed as the difference between an individual animal’s genetics and the genetic base it comes from, measure attributes including profit drivers such as calving ease, gestation length and birth weight, growth and carcase condition. They take a lot of the guesswork out of selecting a bull that’s suitable for your goals.

The MLA website has a new genetics hub which provides tools and resources that will teach you how to make the most of EBVs, helping you to accelerate the improvement of your herd.

4. Research the bulls on offer

You know what you need for your herd; now you have to find a bull to do the job. Before sales catalogues are released, you’ll do well to talk to breeders directly. 

Find out where they’re trying to go with their herd – if the traits they’re putting forward mirror what you’re trying to achieve. If they’ve got an open day, go along and do your research. 

Check that the bulls undergo a BULLCHECK Veterinary Breeding Soundness Examination (VBBSE). The standardised examination, developed by the Australian Cattle Veterinarians, identifies bulls at an increased risk of being subfertile.

When the catalogues are released, study the bulls – and their EBVs – so you’re well prepared come sale day. Ideally, you will have identified about ten bulls that meet your requirements.

5. See the bulls in the yards

The day of the sale, it’s tempting to spend your time catching up with other farmers over a coffee and a steak sandwich, but that one or two hours before the sale commences is all about inspecting the bulls.

You want to see they track well – the back foot lands where the front foot left the ground – and they are structurally sound. Both post-legged and sickle-hocked cattle can suffer from poor mobility, and risk breaking down when servicing a cow.

Also of importance – unsurprisingly – are the bull’s testicles. The bull should have an even pair, without puffiness or abnormalities, that moves freely within the scrotal sac. There’s variance between breeds, but a rule of thumb is that the scrotal circumference should be 32cm at 18 months and 34cm at 24 months.

The NSW Department of Industries has helpful guides on a bull’s soundness for breeding, both reproductively and structurally.

6. Stick to your breeding plan when bidding

You’ve studied the catalogue, inspected the bulls, and you’re ready for the auction. There’s just one more step: making a winning bid.

If you have your heart set on one particular bull, you risk missing out or blowing your budget, when the price goes too high. Have a range of bulls – say three dream bulls, five second-tier picks and a couple of back-up bulls.

What you don’t want to do is panic about driving home empty handed, and buy a bull that doesn’t fit your breeding plan– it will end up being a very costly exercise down the track.

When you do get your bull home, you can manage it more effectively with AgriWebb’s Individual Animal Management. 

To see how IAM can improve your operation, sign up for a free trial today.

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