Determining the viability of older bulls in a breeding program

When searching for a herd bull many producers may start with the goal of finding a young bull with fresh genetics. However, in some circumstances an older bull ends up being just what some cattle operations need.

Advantages to Older Bulls: In some cases, cattle producers may consider buying a cull bull for a herd bull because an older bull is less expensive. Bulls can be expensive, so purchasing an older bull can be an option for producers in a financial pinch. 

Older bulls have proven their performance capabilities. If the bull is bought off a farm, a producer will be able to see the bull’s offspring prior to purchase. Observing a few generations of offspring will help producers determine if the bull’s genetics are going to work in their operation.

Another advantage includes an older bull’s experience and ability to cover more cows. A mature bull can cover more cows than a smaller, younger more inexperienced bull. 

An older bull may be in perfectly good condition with solid genetics; but to prevent potential complications from inbreeding, a producer may need to sell the bull. In these situations, producers can capitalize on an opportunity to purchase proven genetics at a lower price. 

“Producers that retain ownership of heifers may find themselves having to market their 4- to 6-year-old bulls to avoid inbreeding. A bull with some age doesn’t always have to be marketed for slaughter,” Shane Gadberry, professor and extension specialist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, said.  

Disadvantages to Older Bulls: Due to a bull’s age, he may be at the sale barn for a motive other than a producer needing to infuse new genetics into the operation. 

“Buying bulls at the regular weekly livestock auction can be risky,” Gadberry stated. “Those bulls are being sold for a reason and the reason can vary among issues with performance, health and attitude.”

An older bull’s mobility or breeding soundness may lack compared to that of a younger bull. Despite the herd bull’s age, livestock specialists recommend a breeding soundness exam (BSE) prior to turning him out with the herd. 

“When buying a sexually mature bull, regardless of age, a breeding soundness exam is important to make sure the bull is neither sterile or producing semen that has issues with volume or morphology,” Gadberry added. 

In addition, a breeding soundness exam goes further to consider the structural soundness of the bull and his general condition. Livestock specialists remind producers to pay close attention to hoof shape when looking at a bull’s leg confirmation. Bulls with wide open split toes can be a problem. 

Producers should also take a close look at the bull’s body condition. Though thin body condition is a concern, so is an animal that is obese. Fat bulls can look good, but looks can be deceiving.  When buying a bull choose one that comes from a herd that has a documented vaccination history. Lastly, check the bull for trich and quarantine him before turning him in with the cows.


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