Every year cattlemen and women have common occurring questions before investing in genetics that will play a huge role in the success of their operation for several years.  In preparation for the February issue of Drovers CattleNetwork, we sat down with two bull-pen veterans, beef specialist Matt Hersom at the University of Florida and Farmers National Company farm manager John Menzies.

The two cattlemen have decades of experience under their belts and a tip or two that may help you out come sale day.

"Buy a bull to use for five years, and he’s going to have a lasting impact upwards of 15 years on a cow herd,” says Hersom.

In other words, your bull purchase decisions are not to be taken lightly.

How much can I justify to pay for a bull?

Rule of thumb: When it comes to paying for a bull, he should cost you the same amount as what five calves are worth, says beef specialist Matt Hersom at the University of Florida Extension.

"That number this year is a whole lot different than it was 10 years ago, but everything is worth more,” Hersom says.

Proper bull selection will bring producers improved performance in the cow herd through offspring — capturing premiums with calves that are sold and sinking quality genetics back into the herd with replacement heifers.  

"A bull is not a cost; he’s an investment,” he concludes. "Genetic selection should be a high priority for producers, because it’s an investment back into their production system.”

It’s hard to keep track of sale order, make bids and manage a budget in the fast pace of sale. What are some management tips so I don’t get left behind?

Between sorting through bulls, narrowing down top contenders and keeping track during the auction, sale day can be pretty overwhelming. To help keep his mind in focus and not let things fall through the cracks, Farmers National Company farm manager John Menzies suggests bringing a wingman to sale day.

"Before the sale, hand a copy of your desired bull lots to a partner, with instructions to slow you down,” he says. "This is going to help you maintain focus during the sale hoopla.”

According to Menzies, his wingmen keep track of lot numbers during the sale, letting him know when a bull on the list is coming up. They also are the keepers of the budget, keeping Menzies up to speed on how much money he can spend and how many more bull options on his list are yet to sell.

Sale is over, bulls are purchased and we're back at the ranch. Now what?

"Once a producer gets a bull home, he needs to be taken care of,” says "A bull is often the forgotten animal in the herd from a nutrition standpoint.”

The 60 days prior to turnout is vital from a bull’s health and maintenance standpoint, since that is the turnover rate for new sperm, Hersom says.

Preventative maintenance on a bull includes:

  • Vitamin and mineral supplementation
  • Adequate BCS to ensure he has the energy to get the cows bred
  • Passing of a breeding soundness exam (BSE)
  • Own health program that coincides with the cow program, including vaccinations and parasite control

According to Hersom, a BSE needs to be conducted in a timely enough manner so if there are complications the producer has time to adjust the bull’s nutrition program or work with the original seedstock producer to get a replacement in time for breeding. On top of sperm quality, close attention needs to be paid to the feet and legs of the bull to ensure he is structurally sound enough to get the job done.

"Breeding season should not come as a surprise to producers,” Hersom says. "There is no excuse in not being prepared.”