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The numbers are great, but visual appraisal and common sense go a long way in selecting bulls.

Published on: January 11, 2011

The numbers are great, but visual appraisal and common sense go a long way in selecting bulls.

Bull sale season is starting to heat up around the state. So we’re sticking with a beef theme in this week’s blog, talking about the most important animal in your herd – the bull.

I was visiting with a rancher recently about his criteria for selecting bulls. He told me that before he goes to a bull sale, he looks over all the data available and chooses the bulls that fit into his goals for his herd, whether he is looking for growth traits, easy calving or other traits. But once he’s at the sale, he uses his own eyes to appraise fertility and vigor in selecting the bulls he’ll actually pay for.

This approach is very common sense. With all of the data we can collect on bulls these days, we cannot forget the importance of visually observing the bulls, making sure they are of a masculine type and frame, making sure they move well on their feet and legs and that they have a reasonable temperament.

In a story I wrote recently that will appear in an upcoming issue of Nebraska Farmer, we discussed some of the visual criteria proposed by South African animal scientist, Dr. Jan Bonsma in his lectures and writings in the 1960s and 70s. Bonsma’s approach to bull selection was very practical and is good advice if you’re planning to attend a few bull sales this winter.

Bonsma’s research pointed to five criteria that determine fertility. He wrote that skeletal structure and frame type, hair coat and pigmentation, fat deposits and distribution, muscling and disposition were determining traits.

Fertile bulls, to Bonsma, are well-muscled, chiseled specimens that are lean and alert, without being mean. They have curly, coarse, darker hair about their head and neck, a muscular crest on their neck, and a frame style that resembles an upside down triangle, with more width at their hips.

Disposition of the animal is important, according to Bonsma. He wrote that bulls with a crazed look and bulging eyes often lack libido. I would add that they can be downright dangerous to handle. He said bulls that are sexually active are alert and aware of their surroundings, but do not act in the extreme, either overly nervous or overly tame.

So, as you head out to the bull sales this next month or so, check out some of the timeless tips for bull selection from Dr. Bonsma.