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Livestock specialist: Do your homework before bull shopping

Bull shopping season is under way for many cow-calf operators. Catalogs are starting to appear in the mail or online and considerable thought should be going into the genetic needs of a producer's herd's before setting out to a sale according to Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

"The more you know about the performance of your cattle, the easier it is to find a bull that could help you move in the direction you desire," said Cole. "Of course, this requires records that tell you past performance for calving ease, growth, milking ability, carcass quality, yield grade and even satiability in the herd as a breeding female."

It is important for cow-calf producers to look in to the future five or more years to imagine what they will be doing with the cattle they produce. Will they be producing a feeder calf sold right off the cow? Will they be retaining ownership on the calf through to slaughter? Will they be selling seedstock either purebred or commercial?

Cole says all of these questions merit consideration as you think about your next bull.

"If you're armed with answers to these questions you should be ready to put technology to work which will simplify the buying process," said Cole. "We should also consider buying semen and using some other technology. This would involve heat synchronization and artificial insemination, two very effective ways to speed the rate of progress in your herd."

Seedstock producers who have bulls for sale, provide lots of data to their customers that should make their selection process easier. Most of this information is in the form of expected progeny differences that are compiled by a breed association. The association has gathered the data from breeders across the country that reflect how animals in the pedigree have performed.

The actual calculation of an EPD is complex, but includes all data, both good and bad, regarding the genetic composition of the bull or semen you are thinking about buying. Some associations are now including DNA testing in the EPD's they compute to enhance the accuracy of the EPD.

EPDs do require some studying. Research supports they are seven to nine times more accurate than actual weights, measurements and ratios in predicting the genetic makeup of the bull.

"I've found it helpful in evaluating animals with EPDs to refer to their percentile rank chart within their breed. These charts are available from the breed association and many sale catalogs now list a bull's percentile rank alongside the EPD," said Cole.

Most people in the cattle business believe the strong feeder and finished cattle market will result in the bull market being considerably higher than in 2011. Cole says if you are a selective buyer be prepared for "sticker shock."

"The good news is, semen prices have not gone up very much. In fact, a lot of good bulls are priced about the same. AI bulls, especially the older ones, will carry higher accuracy values which reduce your chances of making a mistake when you make that purchase," said Cole. "If you're serious about making improvement in your herd, look into synchronization and fixed-time AI on a portion of your cows. It could end up being less expensive than buying a bull."

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