Producers should know what they’re getting when buying a bull

With the popularity of social media and online sites, buying or selling a bull is pretty convenient.

Producer beware, though. You do tend to get what you pay for. Just because a seller is willing to take a low price or because a bull “needs gone ASAP” does not mean one should choose convenience over quality.

A quality herd sire needs to be a mindful, well researched decision.

A bull has a purpose he needs to be able to do his job, and the buyer needs proof.

“First and foremost, you have to remember what that bull’s job is; you bought him to breed cows,” Andy McCorkill, University of Missouri Extension Livestock Field Specialist, said. “The starting place would be to get a veterinarian’s certificate stating he has passed a Breeding Soundness Exam (BSE). The BSE will evaluate the bulls breeding ability, liking at semen quality factors as well as the bull’s physical structures.”

If a seller is unwilling to undertake this most basic endorsement of their bull’s breeding ability, it is probably best to move on.

Another “proof of purchase” the buyer should obtain from the seller is a negative trichomoniasis test result. This disease can create near catastrophic losses and is the last thing a producer wants to introduce into their herd.

“A producer could lose 50 percent (or more) of an annual calf crop through early embryonic death or abortion if trich is introduced into the herd. Even in a small herd of 30 cows, the loss of calf revenue alone could exceed $10,000,” Dr. Craig Payne, MU Extension Veterinarian, said. “Factor in the losses associated with culling, the cost associated with cleaning up the disease and you have an economically devastating event, not to mention that testing is required in Missouri for all breeding bulls sold, bartered, leased or traded within 60 days prior to change of ownership or possession.”

The exceptions to this requirement are virgin bulls less than 24 months old. McCorkill noted some producers will test virgin bulls for peace of mind.

Don’t be afraid to ask for records on a potential new herd sire. McCorkill advised producers look for good health records and vaccination histories.

“That goes back to keeping him and the rest of the herd healthy, so they have a better chance of doing their job – producing calves – efficiently,” he said.

A new bull should be able to adapt and function efficiently in his new home. Selecting bulls that match your home environment, McCorkill said, is advisable.

“In our area, that means cattle that come from and are used to ‘hot’ endophyte infected fescue,” he said. “Fescue toxicity leads to elevated body temperature in the summer which reduces the fertility of a bull; bulls not raised on fescue are often at a greater disadvantage in this respect.”

When shopping, avoid pursuing transactions for overweight bulls. While a well-fed animal in good condition is desirable, an overfed bull will not perform well or hold up over time.

“Look for feet and leg issues,” McCorkill advised. “If you spot them on young bulls, they’ll only get worse with age.”

Another area to research is temperament. A bull with the drive to do his job is fine, but producer safety needs to be of utmost concern.

“As the average farmer’s age continues to increase, the ability to outrun crazy bulls decreases. It isn’t worth dealing with unruly animals and getting hurt,” McCorkill said.

If a for sale post or an in-person visit includes details that raise red flags about temperament, keep shopping. Whether or not the bull is trained to electric wire fencing is also a pertinent question to ask the seller.

Extension experts highly recommend the use of managed grazing systems, many of which utilize electric fencing. Having a bull that comes already accustomed to that type of fence can save time.

Genetic needs, though varied, are always an important consideration for any animal purchase.

“If you plan on keeping heifers for replacements, a heavier emphasis needs placed on maternal traits than those that sell every calf for feeding, for example,” McCorkill explained. “The onset of the DNA age, coupled with EPDs has made those decisions much easier, as have indexed rankings that put several weighted traits into one EPD. Basically, the idea is to evaluate your marketing and management systems and find a genetic package that matches those needs and builds a herd to meet your plans. Some of the more progressive seedstock operations have some sort of marketing assistance program.

“Whether it be a buyback program or just access to another marketing avenue, it is something to consider. Such programs should be beneficial to both parties; the seller gets data for making future decisions and it can help you both to put it together.”

A responsible and reputable seller will be more than happy to help set a prospective buyer up for success. If a seller ever makes you feel pressured or uncomfortable, they’re not for you.

Selecting a herd sire is a big decision, and your operation will benefit from your good choice.


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