Buy All the Bull You Can
Most of us have calves hitting the ground or soon will. That means bulls will be going in with cows in just a few months. You may be looking for bulls to replace old, injured, or poor performing bulls you already have. Possibly, you are looking for an addition to your bull battery due to expansion. Maybe you are looking for a bull to breed heifers. Whatever your reason, if you are in the market for a bull this year, let me encourage you to buy all the bull you can.
What I mean by this is think about spending what you normally would on your bull to get one that has increased performance. Low calf prices don’t mean you should drop your bull budget. Now is the time to consider you need all the pounds to sell you possibly can at weaning. Not only will it pay off with next year’s calf crop but perhaps more so when prices rebound. And we all know that even though projections are for calf prices to stay steady for several years, the normal cattle cycle will return. I know when prices are low, it is even harder to make yourself spend the money for a bull. I’m often asked what a bull is worth. While there are many variables that determine the value of an animal, the general rule is that a bull is worth 27 times the current selling price of six weight steers. If those steers are averaging $120 per hundred pounds, bulls should be worth about $3200. Again, this is just a guide, not a set rule.
Now let’s do a little comparing of two bulls. Bull A has a weaning weight EPD of +30 and Bull B has an EPD of +50. Theoretically, the calves from Bull B will weigh an average of twenty pounds more at weaning than those of Bull A. We’ll say these are two-year old bulls that will be used on thirty cows. If you have a ninety percent calf crop, you will have an additional 540 pounds of calf to sell. Five weight calves at Powell’s in Smithfield sold for an average of $137 per hundred last week. This equates to an additional $739 by using Bull B.
Keep in mind you should make these calculations to compare prices for bulls you are interested in purchasing. In this example you could pay $739 dollars more for Bull B than you would for Bull A and still cover the additional cost of the bull with the first calf crop. If you pay more than an extra $739, you will go into other calf crops. How much more bull can you get for that $739? Depends on the sale and situation. But how many times have we seen that bull go for just another 50 bucks? It is important to figure these comparisons so you don’t get into a situation where you pay more for the bull than you could ever recover. Also remember that spread between the EPD’s will make a difference too. In the above example, Bull C with a +40 EPD probably won’t make enough difference to justify more money. On the other hand, Bull D with a +70 EPD would be worth even more.
Additionally, if you are making comparisons between two bulls of different breeds, you need to add or subtract the appropriate adjustment factor from the across breed EPD chart produced by USDA Meat Animal Research Center. Most breed associations have copies of this or you can obtain one from the extension office. And finally, choose a bull that meets your requirements. If you are breeding heifers, choose a low birth weight and/or high calving ease direct bull. I’m going to get on my soap box here! By low birth weight I don’t mean negative EPD’s either. Lower positive EPD’s will be fine. (I harped on this in a previous article so that is all I will say about it for now.) If you are breeding only mature cows, you can be a little less concerned with birth weight and calving ease EPD’s and concentrate on bulls with more growth. If you never keep or sell replacement heifers, the milk EPD is of little or no concern to you. Don’t try to find a bull that is perfect in all aspects. Find one that will optimize your operation and benefit buyers through the production chain. Never forget, we are in the beef business and in the end, someone will be eating what you produce. As always if you have any questions, comments, or just want to debate the article, contact me at the Extension office, 910-592-7161.