Management Topics

Apr 19, 2013

Bull sale observation

So far this spring there have been many excellent bull sales, with still more to come. I have observed many interesting trends from the sale season, which I would like to comment on.

The Baldie is back. Although Angus still dominates the bull market and the make-up of this nation’s cowherd, there has been a definite resurgence in the Hereford sales. I feel this can be traced directly to the drought. On paper, Hereford’s are very modest in their production traits, especially on milk. However, with drought, people have come to realize that this is not all bad, especially when it comes to maintenance efficiency. Bottom line is Hereford can make it in tough country, and they are being used to make the historically tried and true Baldie in response to the environmental conditions so many ranchers are facing. When the drought eventually subsides, it will be interesting if they can maintain their expanding market share.

The single trait selection for Angus’ $B ($Beef) index appears to have run its course. $B is a terminal index made up of feedlot and grid genetic predictions. Although a useful index, too much emphasis on it takes the Angus breed away from it strengths, which are maternal traits. I think that people have come to realize that single trait selection for $B can move cattle away from the reproductive excellence and easy-keeping cattle Angus are noted for.

Calving ease direct EPD (CED) is finally catching on. Although CED has been available to producers of most breeds for many, many years, producers up till now seem to have remained steadfast in their use of birth weight EPD as a predictor of calving ease. However, CED, which is the probability of a sire’s calves being born unassisted, has always been the trait of economic importance. CED is based on calving ease scores while also adding all the information from birth weight EPDs as a correlated trait. This makes CED a tremendously more powerful tool than birth weight, and since birth weight is contained within CED for selection purposes, the birth weight EPD should be ignored.

Producers are finding value in indexes that encompass all aspects of production. Amongst these are the $Profit index private ranches are using and the allpurpose index of the Simmental Association. If indexes are a way to simplify selection decisions, this is by far the easiest way to boil down all the EPDs. This is because they take into account all aspects of production, including reproduction and those EPDs related to revenue and expense. However, one must keep in mind that like any index, they use only one scenario for management, feed resources and marketing.

The drought has definitely been a factor in this bull marketing season as there simply are not as many cows and heifers to breed as there were in some past years. This also means that the resulting progeny will be worth record prices! The result of this scenario is that top quality bulls are worth a record price and poor quality bulls are hard to market no matter what the price. People have definitely been looking for the top bulls because they know of the revenue these sires are capable of producing. This has been especially the case for heifer bulls as there are just not as many heifers to breed this year.

There is still a great market for “spread” bulls. Look at any survey of commercial producers’ priorities when purchasing bulls and calving ease almost always tops the list. This means there is great value in bulls that offer calving ease and high growth when used on cows. By the same token, producers do not seem to want their cows producing tiny, weak calves. Again this is a place for the CED EPD. On the growth side, most producers are still looking at yearling weight EPD as their predictor while most of them are getting paid at weaning. This makes the weaning weight EPD the most under used trait of economic importance.

I have found a lot of producers still have high quality bulls for sale private treaty or in the late sales. Even though most areas are short of moisture, it is unfortunate that blizzards have hit as many sales as in a heavy snow year. As a quick example, I know of one high reputation seedstock producer with a strong customer base that only had eight people at his sale because of a severe snow storm. This means there is still time to take the old bull to town and replace him with a younger counterpart.

Bull selling season is always one of the most fun times of year, and this has definitely been an interesting year. If there is one lesson in tougher times, it is seedstock operations with a real program, excellent reputation and foresight are the ones that do best. For commercial producers, quality pays off every time, so step up to the plate if you have not already done so and buy the best genetics you can. — Dr. Bob Hough (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.)