This time of year, cattle producers begin looking for a new bull. The following information is provided to help educate cattle producers in this process.  

First, determine your cattle operation’s direction or goal and how the new bull fits into the plan. In addition, bull-to-cow ratio is important to bull selection. A rule of thumb is the number of cows a bull is exposed to during the breeding season should equal his age in months up to 2 years. Bulls older than 2 years can be exposed to 25-35 cows comfortably.  

Next, select phenotypically sound bulls. Pay close attention to feet, legs and hip structure, making sure bulls are structurally correct and move with ease. In addition, bulls need adequate muscle and rib shape. Bulls who show these features have grown well and should pass those positive traits onto their progeny. Also, structurally sound bulls should stay in the herd longer, resulting in more return on investment.     

Once potential herd bull prospects are determined phenotypically sound, evaluate bulls genotypically by using expected progeny difference information. In addition, I suggest purchasing bulls with genomically-enhanced EPDs. A bull with these EPDs has improved accuracy, which means there is more confidence that bull’s progeny will perform like the EPDs show. Here are suggestions when evaluating bull EPDs:

Are bulls being bred to cows or heifers? Pay close attention to the calving ease direct EPD when bulls are bred to heifers. Bulls bred to heifers need a high CED since it increases the chance their progeny will be born unassisted. Visit with your local MU Extension regional livestock field specialist on proper CED range for heifers.

Are your calves sold at weaning or do you retain ownership to slaughter? Progeny sales point influences EPD utilization during bull selection. If calves are sold at weaning, place selection pressure on the weaning weight EPD without sacrificing other traits. However, if calves are retained to slaughter, place selection pressure on growth and carcass trait EPDs without sacrificing other traits.

Use multi-trait selection index EPDs. A multi-trait selection index EPD is a combination of multiple traits and their economic values into one-dollar value used for selection purposes. Using a selection index EPD which properly incorporates economic relevant traits into your cattle operation, improves progeny and operation profit potential.

Use EPD percentile rank information in evaluating bull EPDs. EPD percentile ranks is probably the easiest way to determine where your potential bull prospects rank in relation to the rest of the bulls in the breed for traits of importance. The scale is from 1-99 percent. Bulls more favorable for a trait are closer to 1 percent. Bulls least favorable for a trait are closer to 99 percent. Bulls you select should have EPDs close to 1 percent for traits important to your cattle operation.

Use your eyes and mind to select bulls that phenotypically and genotypically improve the profit potential of your cattle operation. For questions or more information on the use of phenotype and genetic tools in bull selection, contact your local regional MU Extension livestock field specialist.

Davis is the Cedar County regional livestock field specialist for MU Extension.

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