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Shopping for that perfect bull

In the quest for the perfect bull, ranchers spent hours in spring pouring over expected progeny differences, or EPDs; birth, weaning and yearling weights; blood lines; and relatively new DNA information. Now that the summer breeding season is over, some wonder, “What data did cattle producers really use to select their bulls?”

Pat Gebauer and Luan August, owners of Cardinal Charolais, conduct one of the region’s most successful Charolais sales each spring at their ranch near Hillrose, Colo. They offered some insight.

Key Points

• The bull seller’s reputation is extremely important to most buyers.

• Animals’ disposition ranks very high for most ranchers in northeastern Colorado.

• Most buyers have an idea of what they want their bulls to look like.

“Bull buyers have to like the cattle, no matter what the numbers say. They look for disposition of the bulls and calving ease. Once the list is narrowed to the ones they like, the numbers come into play,” says Gebauer.

“We think buyers come to a sale like ours because of the reliability and cow sense of the people raising the bulls. If a problem occurs, how will it be handled? They like dealing with the hands-on owner who raised the bulls, not a hired man. The service we offer brings ’em through our gate.”

Jim Walker, who ranches near New Raymer, Colo., purchases several bulls every year. “I look at EPDs. Milk production is a priority for me right now,” Walker says. “However, the bull’s appearance is very important. The last bull I’m looking at is the one I like.

“I look for a heavy frame with lots of rib. Birth weight is not a big deal since our cows still carry some large-framed Simmental blood in them. I’ll buy bulls with 110-pound birth weights if I like the individual.”

Walker bought bulls from the same ranch for years. “I had to sell them because they got too old instead of because they broke down,” he says. “That rancher retired, and now I go by recommendations of neighbors who had good luck with a producer’s bulls.”

Rancher Larry Highland, Grover, Colo., finds himself in the market for replacement bulls each year. “EPDs are important to me, especially birth weight,” says Highland. “I buy bulls with eye appeal. My bulls need to have lots of length, straight legs and top line. I hauled cattle commercially for years. Once I hauled the fanciest set of heifers I’d ever seen to a breeder in Nebraska. I went back and bought bulls from him for years because of the quality he kept in his herd. I’m very conscience of where the bulls come from.”

All three commented on the role of DNA testing in bull selection. Gebauer discontinued its use this past year after customers failed to grasp its value. Walker and Highland say DNA testing is too new to be of value at this time.

“After a few more years of data collection, it may be as valuable as EPDs have become,” Walker says.

Hodgson writes from Brush, Colo.

DNA tests gaining strength

“DNA testing began with identification of only a few traits such as tenderness and coat color,” says Daniels. “Today, dozens of traits containing hundreds of markers can be identified by DNA tests. Bloodline verification and the presence or absence of undesirable genetic traits are common DNA tests. A much wider use for these tests are predictions of feedlot performance, carcass and maternal traits. Some see such tests replacing progeny tests, but we see DNA and progeny testing as complementary technologies.”

“DNA profiling gives almost instantaneous information on a young potential herd sire, rather than wait several years for progeny to be tested. The American Angus Association now incorporates DNA data from Igenity into their EPDs,” says Daniels. “A recent independent survey indicated 80% of commercial bull buyers would prefer to have DNA data available when purchasing their herd bulls and replacement females.”


Gentle giants: Luan August and Pat Gebauer, owners of Cardinal Charolais, take pride in the disposition they have bred into their bulls. Service to their customers is another high priority for the Hillrose, Colo., team. Photo by Sue Hodgson

This article published in the September, 2010 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.