Management Topics

Livestock Industry Opinions
Aug 31, 2015

Fall bull sales: Considerations for sellers, buyers

The fall bull-buying season is practically upon us, which means preparation for both sellers and buyers. Most bulls sold in the fall are approximately 18 months, but a strong yearling market still exists in areas where fall is the natural calving season. There are considerations for both buyers and sellers to think about.


It is important to have gathered all the data on the bulls and remove any unsound animals from the sale list. For yearling bulls, all the weight traits should be submitted in proper contemporary groups to the breed association to update the expected progeny differences (EPDs). It is also desirable to run older bulls over the scales close to sale time to have the weights in case the buyers request them.

Yearling bulls should also have the other phenotypic data sent to the breed association including ultrasound.

Many people ultrasounding take that opportunity when the cattle are in the chute to collect other data and perform management practices including collecting scrotal circumference, hip height, disposition scores, and breeding soundness exam, as well as any vaccinations or parasite control that maybe appropriate.

It is never to early or late to collect genomic samples. Like the phenotypic traits, you need to leave enough time for the genomic samples to be interpreted and incorporated into the EPDs. Genomics add a tremendous amount of accuracy to EPDs allowing for more informed buying decisions; it’s another tool to match the right bulls with various customers. However, genomics should be thought of as additive to the phenotypic data and not a replacement for it.

Any survey of commercial producers generally puts calving ease and disposition near the top of the list. In terms of disposition EPDs, most breeds use chute scores at weaning with Angus being the noticeable exception, utilizing chute scores as yearlings. It is good to recheck the disposition of bulls prior to sale time to remove bulls with truly bad dispositions from the sale and provide up-to-date disposition scores for the buyers. It is often useful to buyers to have some type of ranking system on calving ease potential, which can be as simple as recommendations for use on heifers, heifers or cows, or cows only.

The goal for any seller is to match the right bulls to a particular customer’s needs. It’s important to know your customers’ operations and maintain proper footnotes of the bulls needed to steer your customers in the right direction. Right before the sale, it is useful to have a third party go through the sale offering to make sure any bulls with questionable attributes are sold from the seats and not on order.


Bull buyers need to have a game plan before they look through a sale catalog or view a sale offering. They need to have a clear understanding of what will work in their environment as well as match genetics to their management level, feed resources and market.

A good example is milk potential. In more lush environments, higher milk cattle can be called for, but more moderate milk potential is appropriate the harsher the environment in which they are to be managed. Soundness is always important, but becomes a priority when cattle are managed in very extensive situations.

The breeding system being employed is fundamental to sire selection, which includes the decision whether to crossbreed or straightbreed.

Planned crossbreeding will significantly increase the efficiency of your cattle primarily through maternal traits.

This includes reproduction, calf livability and pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed.

One item that will also have significant increase in heterosis is milk. Up until now we have been talking about the “free lunch traits” due to heterosis, but increased milk comes with a cost of increased nutrient requirements. Remember that the EPDs on hybrids are expressed on a purebred basis, so the resulting daughters can be expected to exceed the EPD predictions due to heterosis.

Crossbreeding is very desirable to improve efficiency, but straightbreeding still has a large place in our industry. Red Angus feeder cattle followed closely by Angus have been demonstrated to bring a premium in the market. I also recommend straightbreeding if you have a well-established relationship to a seller, which results in cattle that are adapted to your environment and feed resources, which result in feeder cattle capable of bringing a premium.

Bull selling season is one of the most exciting times of the year, and more and more as an industry we are seeing increasing number of sales in the fall. In areas where fall calving is the natural time of the year to calve, yearling bulls from your region have the benefit of generally being raised in an environment similar to the one in which you are managing your cattle.

However, there is always an advantage to buying older bulls in that they are able to cover more cows. The older the bulls, the more opportunity they will have had to sort themselves out. Always keep in mind when buying and selling to match the right bulls to a producer’s environment, management, feed resources and market. — Dr. Bob Hough, WLJ Correspondent

(Dr. Bob Hough has served as the Executive Vice President of the Red Angus Association of American and more recently as Executive Vice President of the North American Limousin Foundation from 2009 to early 2011. He is now a consultant, freelance writer and semiretired.)

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