As the New Year begins, seedstock producer and exhibition breed sales take center stage. Commercial cattlemen explore the genetic opportunities in available bull consignments that will enhance their ability to elevate cowherd reproductive and performance benchmarks. The volume of data and information included in the sale catalog should serve as a “sorting stick” for making selection decisions; However, it can be overwhelming come sale time if producer homework has not been performed.
Sale day is not the time to begin the review! Social interaction with neighbors, friends and other cattlemen demand considerable time and make studying the catalog extremely difficult at that time. Homework prior to the sale is required! You owe it to your business and it will avoid spontaneous decisions based solely on phenotype, frame size or ancestry of the bull.
That process begins with a review of the vision you have for your cowherd and the attributes that this new herd sire will bring as he enters the herd battery. Just like sports, you need a game plan and the knowledge of which individual bull will complement those areas (single-trait selection not recommended) of your herd’s genetic makeup that you have targeted for improvement. He needs a job description: Is calving ease his responsibility? How about replacement females, is that a priority? Terminal contributions and improved efficiency may be required to advance marketing endpoints. What about disposition or maternal milk, are these attributes included in the new sire’s job description?
When cattlemen are comfortable with their game plan, the sorting process begins. Personally, I recommend that this process begins with elimination, not selection. If we have outlined the responsibilities or job description of our potential herd sire, we can then document selection criteria parameters for traits that are desired/acceptable which will allow him to generate those expectations. With sale catalog in hand, we grasp our red marking pen and cross-through all prospects that do not meet our criteria or have documented genetic defects in their pedigree that we will not tolerate. No exceptions! They either meet our requirements or they don’t.
Now it is time to reverse the process and begin evaluating those bulls who survived the elimination ordeal. The task now is considerably more manageable as we have fewer numbers to review and we use our marker for a quite different purpose: Highlighting targeted EPDs (BW, WW, YW, MM) and meaningful genetic indexes (such as $W, $EN, $F, $G, $B in the Angus breed) if they are available. By themselves, these values are of little benefit but when compared to breed averages become strategically important. Most catalogs include these breed guidelines. Highlighting those bulls with the best combination of traits that are important to your breeding program strategic plan provides you with the “short list” or sires you will consider purchasing.
Individual bull weights are indicative of the various weight expectations for sire prospects but fail to offer buyers EPD reliability because of the influence that management practices may have on those numbers, as with weaning weights, where one bull was allowed creep feed while the other was not. The bull’s actual performance and ratios have already been accounted for in the EPD calculations along with all his relatives, so stick with EPDs as they are a much better predictor of how that bull’s offspring will perform. The same applies to strict use of pedigrees for purchasing preference. Breed EPDs offer considerably more value to cattlemen than basing decisions strictly on ancestry.
Additional notes that might be important to highlight include “retained interests” by the seedstock producer or rights to embryo flushes as well. Owners typically note that these arrangements will not interfere with the use of the herd sire by the buyer. If this is a concern, the matter should be discussed prior to the purchase.
As bull-buying season becomes a priority for commercial cattlemen, their homework assignment, prior to sale day is as follows:
- Define the genetic responsibilities or develop a job description for the new herd sire.
- Obtain a sale catalog from the seedstock producer as early as possible to be used as you text book to complete your homework task.
- Define the genetic parameters that are desirable/acceptable to you cattle operation relevant to the job description you wrote.
- With red marker in hand, eliminate those bulls that do not meet your specifications with no exceptions.
- Now document individual EPDs, production indexes, genetic defects and individual weight numbers that you feel are essential to be included in you selection decision.
- Rank those bulls considered acceptable in order of preference and review the sale order so that you can adjust accordingly if they are not sold in that order.
Purchasing your next herd sire can be an exciting, yet challenging process. Cattlemen who have done their homework prior to sale day often find that task more relaxing because they are confident in the decision they are about to make.