With free enterprise there is always a better way of doing things. This is no different with the marketing of cattle, bulls especially, in the new millennium. Purchased bulls represent one-half of the future genetics of your herd so they are an investment worth investigating and protecting. Each purebred producer has different things of value to offer the buyer and it is worth studying the sales catalogue closely to see what is being offered.
There is often so much information available that you need to prioritize what is most important to your operation in the way of a bull.
If you are purchasing bulls in the U.S. keep in mind that in some cases their standards are much different than ours. Many a purebred producer has been fooled into purchasing a bull in the States touted as having a very large scrotum only to find he measures much less once he is in Canada. This is because U.S. veterinarians do not compress the skin and fat around the scrotum but just pull the tape snug. Their measurements are thus inflated by an average two to three, and up to five, centimetres compared to what they would be if measured by Canadian veterinarians.
As a veterinarian I always look at the reproductive end first so my first concern, especially with young bulls, is that the semen has been evaluated, if not before the sale then at least by the time they are delivered.
Most catalogues explain EPDs when they are included in the description and give an average for the breed so you have something to compare them against.
Read the health protocols as most producers now include the vaccination status of the herd and some purebred bulls are now being vaccinated for less common conditions such as foot rot or pinkeye. If you experience these conditions on your farm purchasing these bulls may be advantageous.
Breeders should avoid making general statements in catalogues such as, “These bulls have a complete vaccination program.” What exactly does that mean? Some producers may consider one shot of two-way blackleg as a complete program. My advice is to list all health shots that have been given to the herd along with the antiparasiticides that have been used. It is very easy to list the diseases that the bull is protected for and then people know what they are buying.
If you are buying bulls from some distance away you need to recognize that there may be geographic differences in the vaccines that have been given.
Although personal guarantees for fertility and soundness are good, when the bull has passed a breeding soundness exam you are one step closer to ensuring a successful breeding season.
Most problems with a bull occur in the first year so it is not a bad idea to either insure your purchase or collect semen on the valuable bulls, which is a form of insurance in itself.
Lots of extra features are now listed in sales catalogues such as DNA testing results for colour, polledness, negative results to PI (persistently infected) for BVD and carcass data as well as ultrasound results. If these are important for your herd a little homework now will return many benefits down the line.
Birth weight is still very important, but several other factors can affect your selection for this trait. For example, if the calves are weighed at one day of age be aware that they are lighter than right at birth. Some cows or bulls will have longer gestations resulting in bigger calves. Bison have smaller calves partially because their gestation period is two to three weeks shorter than for cattle. Bigger cows have a tendency to have bigger calves so birth weight based on percentage of dam’s weight may be a useful number to know.
I have seen catalogues in the U.S. where adjusted birth weights are used and they intentionally add weight to firstcalf heifers’ calves because data indicates as cows they should have larger calves.
Some U.S. catalogues also adjust the data for scrotal size where every yearling is adjusted forwards or backwards to 365 days. Although this may be helpful, scrotal growth varies considerably and I wouldn’t use it as an accurate estimation.
Additional factors that sometimes play a role in your selection are sales features such as the fact certain bulls were boarded. Usually the breeder wants boarded bulls covered by insurance. Other features are becoming pretty commonplace in today’s marketplace, such as the option to have the bulls delivered to a central point or money taken off when they are picked up on the day of the sale.
Over the years purebred producers have extended more and more services to the commercial cattleman. These are clearly illustrated in the catalogue and from my research the producers in Canada do a darn good job of it.