AgWatch


Is He Really Earning His Keep Or Just Getting By?

DR. TERESA L. STECKLER

SIMPSON, ILL.
   Have you finished calving yet? Are the calves doing well – no respiratory issues from the constantly changing weather? What’s next? How many years have you had your herd bull; did he produce the type of calves you wanted; growth, good carcass qualities, free of deformities, etc.?
   If not, then a new bull is needed. If he met your expectations, then it is time to arrange an appointment with your local vet to have an annual breeding soundness examine (BSE). Unlike cows that have one calf a year, herd bulls contribute one-half of the genetics to each calf crop. Therefore he must be functional for a calf crop to be realized, but he still must contribute genetically to the herd.
   Keep in mind the calves born and weaned are what keep the operation in the black. It is expensive to maintain open cows for a year; it costs approximately $700 to keep that cow around for the next breeding season. That begins to add up quickly, especially if your bull would have failed the breeding soundness examine! 
   It is advisable to conduct a BSE of your herd bulls before the breeding season; this would give ample opportunity to find a replacement. Very few bulls are “sterile” and unable to produce any offspring. However, 10 percent to 25 percent of bulls have reduced fertility or possess physical problems which reduce their ability to sire calves. The breeding soundness evaluation is a useful tool in identifying these bulls. Eliminating bulls with physical problems or reduced fertility from the breeding herd will improve overall reproductive efficiency of the herd.
   Remember that approximately 75 days are required for the bull to produce semen. Sperm production requires about 60 days and an additional 15 days are required for transport through the system, during which further sperm maturation occurs. If the BSE is conducted 60 days before the start of the breeding season, then you have an opportunity to retest the bull or find a replacement bull.
   Producers need to recognize that a BSE does not evaluate a bull’s breeding drive or ability. The producer should ensure that bulls, especially new ones, are observed during the breeding process and that they are interested and able to mount and inseminate females.
   If your bull fails the BSE, try to determine why – nutrition, disease, physical impairment. If the bull cannot be used for the breeding season, then it is time to begin the search. Numerous bull sales have already been held and deciding on which bull will contribute positively to your herd genetics is not an easy task.
   Selecting and purchasing a bull for your beef herd could be considered one of the most important decisions you make in your operation. Don’t make a quick, unprepared decision on purchasing a bull. Never consider purchasing a bull without a proven record and a sound genetic background. Using a bull with poor performance and a weak genetic base could delay improvements in your herd for several years.
   The small expense you have in purchasing a bull is the difference between the purchase price of the new bull and the salvage value of the old bull. This investment will add efficiency and profitability to your herd for years to come. For example: the purchase price of your new bull is $3500 and the salvage value of the old bull (1900 lbs x 1.20/lb.) is $2090. Thus, the cost of the new bull is $1410.
   If the new bull sires 75 calves over the next 3 years, the cost per calf is $1410/ 75 = $18.80. If the bull sires 75 calves that are 10 lbs heavier at weaning (average weight of 575) and they sell for $2.69/lb at weaning, then you would receive an additional $2017.50. This more than offsets the cost of that new bull not to mention the genetic improvement in your herd.
   While the initial cost of that bull may seem high, that initial expense becomes relatively small when it is spread across your bull’s calf crop for a 3 year period. Bull procurement decisions can greatly impact your future calf crops and herd genetics for many years. Keep in mind that a bull that will improve a herd must have genetic superiority over both the cows in the herd and over pervious bulls. ∆
   DR. TERESA L. STECKLER: Extension Specialist, Animal Systems/Beef, University of Illinois
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