29 January 1999

Bull-buying dos and donts

With more herds spring

calving and closed herds

increasing, more buyers will

be at Perth bull sales.

James Garner finds out

what to look for in a bull

BUYING a bull is a nerve-racking task. Its a big investment, so making the right choice and deciding how much to pay is vital.

One hopeful buyer and seller at Perth this week is dairy farmer and Aberdeen Angus breeder Stephen Yates, Common Farm, Sheriff Hales, Shrops. "Ill be looking for the same type of bull as my old stock bull. Thats one with muscularity and size.

"I want to improve muscularity around the back end, but I dont want to breed short animals, so its a combination of height, length, width and capacity of beast that I look for."

The bull must also be performance recorded, says Mr Yates. "This is becoming more relevant to commercial producers, who are taking more interest in Estimated Breeding Values."

However, Mr Yates, who manages the Samhof herd for Austrian entrepreneur Hans Mosenbacher, says he would never buy a bull on figures alone.

"EBVs are a guide. I would not buy purely on figures, but would use them in conjunction with the dams breeding and bulls conformation. They are another part of the jigsaw."

Telford-based Signet consultant Ian Pritchard warns commercial and pedigree buyers alike that you cant buy a bull entirely on looks:

"It should be a combination of both EBVs and looks. Its harder to make money out of beef now and is likely to become more so with EU moving towards production at world prices."

Therefore every bit of help is important to remain competitive; genetic improvement is trouble-free and inexpensive, he says.

For those hoping to purchase at Perth this week, Mr Pritchard says a good place to start is obtain the catalogue beforehand. Pick out 15-20 bulls to choose from, rather than trying to work through the large numbers on offer in sale rings.

EBVs are a key point to examine before and at the sale.

"Buyers can pick and choose bulls with EBVs to suit their systems. For example, a dairy farmer might want a bull with good EBVs for gestation length and calving ease. These are combined in an overall value, called calving value.

"Longer gestation length means bigger calves and more difficult calving, which can result in cows taking a long time to become pregnant again. So look for a positive calving value.

"Producers who have closed their suckler herds to improve traceability should look for a high 200-day milk EBV to improve heifer replacements milking potential.

Selling weaned calves means they have to grow well to 200 days old, so look for a good 200-day growth EBV, while the 400-day growth EBV is important for producers who finish cattle, he says.

"Because both growth traits are highly heritable, buyers can place faith in their accuracy. Additionally, more breeders are using ultrasound scanning, so information provided to buyers on carcass traits is more reliable."

Muscling score

Better conformation pays in the marketplace, so look for a high muscling score EBV to improve premium payments and a low fat depth EBV to prevent penalties, particularly with British breeds which tend to be fatter, says Mr Pritchard.

To tell how good a bulls EBV traits are, look at bookmarks in the catalogues that details EBVs for top 1%, 10% and 25% of cattle in the breed.

"Producers can pitch to what level and traits they are interested in and compare bulls accordingly."

On the physical side, there are basic principles to follow to help choose a bull, says Mr Pritchard.

Theres little need to worry about testicle size, teeth and eyes and any contagious disease such as ringworm as all breed societies have vets inspect bulls to ensure these things are correct, he says. However, there are some key points to note;

Testicles – Bulls should have an even pair of testicles with no puffiness or abnormalities. "Small testicles are linked to infertility," he says.

Teeth – Dont select bulls with an over or undershot jaw which is seen as a genetic fault that passes from one generation to another.

Legs – "One in each corner, and that means square in each corner. Legs should be neither too straight or too cow-hocked," says Mr Pritchard.

Locomotion can tell a buyer a lot about a bulls likely performance. "Some bulls have to walk a long way during bulling, and so they need to be fit and able to walk well. They need to be up on their pasterns and not back on their heels."

When bulls walk they should not move their back legs too close to the mid-line of their body, and should neither have too wide or too narrow a gait.

Ensuring they can walk long distances means their front legs should be fairly straight. However, the feet can turn out, although at no more of an angle than ten to two, as this will impair walking, he says.

Body – "Bulls want to be smooth through the shoulders, meaning they are not too prominent which can lead to calving problems."

Height is not of great commercial importance, although some pedigree breeders like to see this.

From the side bulls should be long, with volume and depth throughout the body. They should also have a round back-end and straight back with no dip behind the shoulders, he says.

From behind bulls should be well fleshed from the backside to the hock and be wide across their whole body, from rump through loin to shoulders. Bulls should be well fleshed but not fat.

Stockman are good at hiding all sorts of faults, so be careful, warns Mr Pritchard. "Check bulls in the collecting ring or show ring before the sale to see how mobile they are."

BUYINGABULL

&#8226 Use EBVs that suit your system.

&#8226 Check locomotion.

&#8226 Well fleshed from backside to hock.