Tips for Bull Buying Success
By Ellen H. Brisendine
When it is time to buy a bull for your beef cattle herd, consider some advice from two people involved in the purebred side of ranching.
- Know your seller
- Know yourself
- Look for the bull or bulls that fit your plan
- Accept help and advice from people you trust
Rayford Pullen is an Angus seedstock producer based at Bellevue. Radale Tiner covers Texas and New Mexico as the regional manager for the American Angus Association. Together they sat down with Shawn McCoy at Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) to talk about bull buying tips for the October installment of POSTED, the TSCRA podcast series found on TheCattlemanBuyersGuide.com. Hear excerpts of this article in that podcast.
Know your seller
In the ranching community, the basic expectations of a reputable producer of herd sires are that he or she will provide pedigree information, birthweight and weight gain information, healthy livestock, help in choosing the right bull, and a guarantee or replacement policy.
Pullen explains, “It is our job as a seedstock producer to do all the right things. Obviously, from the time we weaned them, we have given these calves all their vaccinations for everything we know that they probably need. And then, before selling them we will do a complete breeding soundness evaluation on them.”
Pullen sells 14- to 18-month-old bulls. He produces them to be athletic and capable of making the transition from his ranch to the buyer’s ranch without falling apart when facing new forages and when learning their way around the new pastures.
Reputable sellers want to develop a long-term business relationship with the buyer, Tiner says. “Find someone you trust. I know a lot of people who buy from different ranchers and they have been buying from them for 10 or 15 years or even more, in some cases. It is important for a commercial bull buyer to find people you know and trust and that you like doing business with; then the rest will take care of itself,” he says.
Tiner encourages buyers to look for herd sire producers who provide guarantees. “I tell you, that is a big deal. We all know that when we are dealing with animals, things can happen. I have had instances where the bull is fertility tested and everything looks good. Then you turn him out and two months later, all your cows are open. It happens.
“Buyers expect that bad things may happen occasionally, but what they also expect is to do business with someone who will take care of business” and replace the bull or provide a refund, he says.
Pullen agrees, “If that happens to us, we immediately replace the bull because that is just part of the deal. That is just the way we operate.”
Since some of Pullen’s clients buy their bulls sight-unseen, he offers additional protection to the buyers. “We guarantee that if you do not like him when he comes off the trailer, put him back on the trailer, and we will bring him home. And that is before they pay for the bull.”
To do a good job of buying a herd sire, know what you need in your herd.
As a breed association regional manager, Tiner is available to be the eyes and ears of buyers who are not able to attend a production bull sale.
To be an effective representative, he makes sure he knows how the buyer plans to use those bulls. Will the buyer breed the bull to heifers or cows? Will they sell the calves at weaning or retain ownership into the next beef production phases?
“I often see people start buying cattle without necessarily having a plan for where they are headed. I would encourage someone who is just starting in the cattle business to get a plan for where they are going, whether that is purebred livestock or commercial,” he advises.
“If you plan to raise black baldies, then buy cattle accordingly. If you are planning to raise replacement heifers, get a plan for that. If you are planning to sell everything at weaning, note that before you start buying your cow herd because a lot of people buy a particular type of cow, then they realize that is not what they wanted. Then they have to start shifting and selling and buying new cows,” he says.
Then go looking
Once the buyer has an idea of what is needed in the bull, Tiner and Pullen have some suggestions for what else to consider in the package.
Pullen’s top trait is docility. “If he is not a docile bull, then all bets are off.”
Next, the bull must exhibit the correct physical traits of a male of the breed. “They must have the look of a bull,” and be structurally correct with sound feet and legs, Pullen says.
“Purchase an athlete,” he says, referring to a bull that can “get around in your pasture and breed all your cows.”
Once a prospective bull has passed the temperament and structural correctness criteria, then the buyer can start looking at the genetic information for that particular bull to see if it will move the herd toward the owner’s goal.
Pullen’s buyers look to him to translate the meaning of the expected progeny differences (EPDs) of the bulls they are considering, he says. “The first time they look at the paperwork and the EPDs, they might as well be reading a novel written in Chinese, because it just does not make any sense in the world to them,” he says.
Depending on the size of the herd, a bull may be active for many years, and the influence of that bull will be seen in the daughters that may stay in the herd.
Some industry experts suggest replacing a herd sire when they are five or six years old for several reasons.
While bulls can be active breeders for 10 or 12 years, they may be subject to injury because of their mature size or may be subject to trichomoniasis (trich) if they, or the neighbors’ cows, tend to wander.
Pullen explains, “The older they get, the more apt they are to get trich if they are exposed to it, and trich is a very big deal. We sell all of our bulls as virgin bulls, but I have had people still want to test them for trich, which we will. Invariably, that rancher had a trich problem that almost put him out of business.”
For owners of 20- to 30-cow herds, Tiner says, “If you have one bull and are keeping replacement heifers, by the time that bull is about four or so, his daughters are coming into production.” The herd owner might then consider selling that bull to avoid breeding him back to his daughters, which can cause inbreeding problems.
“In bigger operations, producers can switch bulls around and keep the bloodlines distant, so they are not inbreeding. But that is something that affects the length of time that some smaller breeders keep their bulls,” Tiner explains.
For buyers looking to purchase three or four bulls at a time, Tiner suggests buying full brothers or closely related bulls. This will allow you to work toward a more consistent calf crop. Bulls from “two completely different genetic lines or even different looking bulls,” he explains, “will not help with consistency.
“You can buy similar genetics, so you are narrowing down the variability of the calves. That is something to really think about,” Tiner says, “because some buyers might buy five different bulls and they are all sired from different bloodlines.”
Another factor in improving the consistency of the calf crop is the length of the calving season. Having one calf born in February and another in April will negatively affect the uniformity of the calf crop. “To get any kind of top-of-the-market deals in this market, we must look at selling groups of cattle,” Pullen says.
“If you have five or 10 calves, start meeting your neighbors and getting a game plan together so you can sell truckloads of calves. That is the only way you are going to get the real bang for your buck,” he says.
Tiner adds, “If your calf crop can be down to a 30- or 45-day window or even less, you are dollars ahead at the end of the day.”
If your goal is to keep daughters of the bull as replacement heifers, or your business model is to develop and sell replacement females, then the seller asks about the udder conformation of the bull’s dam.
“Try your best to look at his mother,” Tiner says, “because if that mother has a good udder, then we hope the daughters of this bull will have good udders. If that bull’s mother has a bad udder or maybe was not very productive,” then you may be looking at problems with maternal traits in a few years when the bull’s daughters enter production.
Pullen puts that in perspective saying, “When you buy bulls and you retain females in your herd, that is going to affect you for the next 12 years or so, maybe longer. The reproduction side of the cattle business is extremely slow.”
Accept the help
“Let me help you prevent a wreck,” Pullen says, as he has offered this help to buyers many times over the years. “Wrecks occur when they start buying cattle that calve at the wrong time of the year. That is a really big deal.”
In his own herd, Pullen has documented that calves born in February and March weighed an average of 111 pounds more than the calves born in April and May. “That is almost unbelievable,” he says, “but when you start looking at grass quality, when we hit the middle of July [grass quality] deteriorates quickly. If you do not have those calves on the ground and ready to go in February and March, ready for that April grass when that mom is going to be giving more milk, and he is going to be gaining the most weight he will ever gain,” you may be missing out on a cost-effective weight gain opportunity.
“It does not particularly matter whether you are buying commercial cattle or registered cattle, you need to make sure they calve to fit your environment. South of here, spring comes earlier so you may want January and February or December and January calves, depending on where you live,” Pullen says.
Both Tiner and Pullen advise bull buyers to know their seller, know their own herd needs and business goals, know how to get the most out of the forage resources with the right calving season, and look to others in the business for the help that this community is known to freely provide.
Listen to more of this interview at www.thecattlemanbuyersguide.com/posted.
Bull Buying Tips is excerpted from the October 2019 issue of The Cattleman magazine. Join today to start your subscription.