Some Tips On Bull Selection

By Lorna Joubert

Cattle farmers are currently taking stock of their breeding bulls, and considering buy new bulls. There are various sales coming up and farmers are suddenly spoilt for choice. While many buyers are seasoned farmers and know exactly what they need, there are many others, who are perhaps either young, or taking the leap from smallscale to small commercial, or new to the cattle industry or simply inexperienced, or perhaps having to buy a good bull for the first time. This can be a daunting experience.

Hopefully, the following guidelines can assist in making your decisions easier. There cannot be enough emphasis placed on asking questions. Hesitation at finding out an answer, no matter how simple the question may seem, can come at a huge cost. Do not let pride get in the way of herd improvement. Make sure you ask the correct people, who have experience on the ground and can give you an honest opinion, and foremost, someone you trust. Google, whilst being a mountain of information, is not always relevant to our unique situation and has no practical farming experience.

The stud bull is the biggest single investment in your cattle herd. This is the most important decision you can make. Please remember that a cow will produce one calf per year for you. The quality of the calf she produces is a direct result of the bull you have chosen. The bull in your herd will produce between 20-30 calves per year for you, at least, often more, and will remain in your herd for at least two to three years, before he starts coming back on his daughters. You, therefore, need to choose the right bull and the right breed and NEVER take the cheap option when buying a bull. Buy the very best bull which you can afford at the time. Buy a mature bull that is ready to work. If you still have to grow your bull to maturity, then you have wasted time and money. Consider carefully what you are needing from your herd. If you are a commercial breeder, then beef and high-quality weaners are your end goal – for this you need a bull that is showing beef quality, and you do not necessarily need to look at buying the most expensive bull on sale – look for the specifics which YOU need. Perhaps your herd needs to increase in the general size of the animal, or perhaps you need length in your animals – look for a bull which is showing your required criteria. Eg. a pretty color does not pay the bills for a feedlotter – feed conversion is what is needed.

Consider the breed you are buying carefully – do your homework about the various breeds available, and speak to different breeders beforehand, as well as retired cattlemen, vets, butchers, feedlotters and other experienced commercial cattlemen before making a decision, make sure the breed you are buying will compliment your current females and your operation targets. Make sure you like the breed you are buying.

First impressions are vital: your bull must strike you as masculine with a first glance – if you have to look underneath the bull to determine if he is a bull, then you should reconsider – your bull should have well-developed neck muscling, broadness between the forelegs, a broad forehead and muzzle, and coarseness of build which is masculine beyond doubt. As a potential buyer, you have the fullest right to ask a breeder to take a bull out of his pen, and have him walk – see that the bull walks easily and does not have pasterns that are weak and sloping. If he cannot walk, he cannot follow his cows, or reach remote grazing areas. Check that the hind legs are not too “posty” or straight – your bull needs to have leverage when he covers a female.

The bull’s sheath is of vital importance – check that the sheath is not too long – a sheath hanging below the hock height will be exposed to injury, dragging in thorns, burrs, and long spiky grass. The opening needs to be pointing slightly forwards, and must not be too open, also to avoid possible injuries and easy entry by ticks. A bull with a lot of loose skin around the sheath will not breed offspring with clean underlines. If this bothers you, then buy a clean sheathed bull. Your bull’s scrotum needs to conform to breed standards. Check these before buying. The scrotum must be symmetrical, with no obvious lesions, facing forward and both testes should be equally firm. Check that your bull’s forequarter and hindquarter are balanced.

Ask what the bull has been grazing on – this needs to be taken into consideration if he is to moved from easy sweetveld or pastures, to a harsher area, or sourveld grazing – you need to be aware that the bull will need a bit of time to adapt to new conditions. The same applies to an over-conditioned bull – he will need to slim down before he settles down to work – make allowances for this. Make sure that your bull has had all his necessary vaccinations.

When buying a pedigree bull, he should come from a reputable breeder, registered with Zimbabwe Herd Book. This ensures that you are getting a bull which conforms to breed standards, with pedigree traceable genetics. Record your bull’s genetics, for reference the next time you are buying, so that you can ensure hybrid vigour in your herd, and preventing inbreeding. Your bull should be checked for soundness by a veterinarian prior to sale, and sell with a certificate of breeding soundness. At most breed sales, all breeders are usually requested to produce certificates before the sale. Semen testing is usually an optional advantage. Decide beforehand what your budget is. If it is an auction, decide on an absolute maximum: define your goals carefully and choose your bull accordingly.

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