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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

The Value of a Good Bull

Livestock Update, January 2004

Scott P. Greiner, Extension Animal Scientist, Beef, VA Tech

Good times have been enjoyed by beef producers over the past several months as the result of sustained high cattle prices. Resulting profits at the cow-calf sector have provided many with an opportunity for investment in new and upgraded facilities, equipment, and provided for possible herd expansion. In addition to these considerations, now is an opportune time to invest in genetics for the future. With the beef industry moving rapidly towards wide-spread adoption of programs and systems that favorably reward cattle with documented genetics, management, and health it may be argued that perhaps there has not been a more important time to invest in superior genetics. Recent developments regarding a national identification system and the continued growth of value-added programs are further evidence that sound, documentable genetics will be imperative for future success.

The majority of genetic progress in cow-calf operations is made through sire selection. For many cow-calf producers, new herd sires are purchased relatively infrequently (every 3-4 years). Although these decisions are made infrequently, they have enormous impact by directly affecting economically important traits such as calving ease, growth, and carcass merit. Furthermore, sire selection decisions have long-term impacts when their genetics are expressed in subsequent generation through their daughters.

So what is the value of a good bull? For cow-calf producers selling feeder cattle, weaning weight growth has high economic value as weaning weight growth genetics translate into calf sale weight. If some basic assumptions are made, the value of added weaning weight can be quantified:

Given these assumptions, a total of 84 calves would be weaned out of the bull over the four calf crops (105 total cows x 80%). If 21 heifer calves are retained as potential replacements (20% of cows exposed), this results in 63 marketable calves. If the calves are 10 pounds heavier on average, 630 additional pounds of calf will be marketed. Using feeder calf prices from this past October, each additional pound of calf sold is worth $0.78 on average (for calves weighing 350-750 pounds). The additional 630 pounds sold at $0.78 per pound results in a total of $491 additional income from calf sales for a bull that will add 10 pounds of weaning weight.

This simplified example has only considered one trait. Additional value captured through the bulls daughters, and other traits such as calving ease and carcass merit are more complex to quantify. Even when only one trait is considered- good bulls are worth more!

An aspect that deserves attention relates to the definition of a "good" bull. In this example, "good" has been defined as superior growth. In most cases, bulls will be selected for a balance of desirable genetics for multiple traits- each of which contribute to the value of the bull as a sire. This is most effectively accomplished through the use of EPDs.

In summary, investing in superior genetics, and particularly herd sires, is money well spent. The primary keys to effective sire selection include defining the genetic improvements that need to be made in the existing herd, and identifying bulls that will make these improvements.

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