Thursday, March 26, 2015

Buying a New Bull

Buying a new bull is pretty easy, all you need to do is decide what breed of bull you want, find a few bull producers, do a little talking with the guy selling the bulls while you look at their bulls, scratch your head trying to figure out all the EPDs of the various bulls, and then you pick the bull you want.  Of course, don't forget that you also have to remember not to look too shocked when you hear the prices, and it's considered really bad manners if you pass out after hearing how much that bull is going to cost.

My cows are commercial Black Angus (unregistered without any fancy papers), and my bulls are registered Black Angus bulls (they came with some fancy papers).  There are advantages to having both straight-bred cattle and black-hided cattle, but for a while I've been considering trying my hand at crossbreeding for a number of reasons and I've always liked the way red-hided cattle look so I've been giving serious thought to getting a different breed of bull than another Black Angus bull.

Getting a Hereford bull was one thought, since I like the way black baldy calves look and since they are also black-hided they should sell for as much as Black Angus calves. But I'd rather have some Hereford cows and a Black Angus bull to get my black baldies. If I ever buy some bred heifers again, I'd think about buying some Hereford heifers and using a LBW (Low birth weight) Black Angus bull on them.

I was also thinking about getting a Red Angus bull with the theory that the calves would be all black, I'd get a tiny bit of hybrid vigor in the calves, and if I saved some replacement heifers I could eventually turn the entire herd red with a few more Red Angus bulls and a little time.

A Brangus bull (either Red or Black) was another thought for a short time.  Brangus cattle are a composite breed of cattle that is 3/8 Brahman and 5/8 Angus.  The Brahman part of the breeding gives Brangus cattle a little more heat tolerance which can be important in places like OK and TX.  But the Brahman breeding can also give the Brangus some of the "ear" of the Brahman which has the possibility of getting docked at some sales (it all depends on what part of the country you are in).  Breeding a Brangus bull to Angus cows will give you what some people call an Ultra Black (3/16 Brahman and 13/16 Angus) which will still have the heat tolerance of the Brangus but a calf that you have to look pretty hard at to see the Brahman influence.  If I could find a good source for LBW Red Brangus bulls, that might be the best option in the future, resulting in better heat tolerance, more hybrid vigor, and some red-hided cattle in my pastures to look at.

The craziest idea I had was to raise my own bull from my existing herd.  I figured that if I can raise a decent replacement heifer and since I've been using decent registered bulls (so I should have some relatively good genetics out there), then it might be possible to raise my own bull.  Conventional wisdom says that you don't want to use "cheap" bulls because they are half of your calf crop, so I'm not sure if I'm willing to take that big of a potential risk anytime soon. 

In the end, I chickened out on all my grand plans to start a cross-breeding program with my cow herd and ended up buying another registered Black Angus bull.

There's an old rule of thumb that says that a bull should cost somewhere around what four weaned calves sell for, so when I saw that weaned steer calves were selling for almost $1500/head this week it took some of the sting out of how much I had to pay since I didn't pay quite that much for my new bull.

Of course, I'm also a little spoiled when it comes to buying bulls because the bull I'm replacing was a heck of a bull and a heck of a money-maker (at least as far as I could tell).  Although it helped that the cattle market really started going up a lot after I first got him, he cost pretty close to what four steers went for back when I bought him, I managed to get almost 160 calves from him, then I was able to sell him last fall for almost what I originally paid for him.

I hope this new bull lasts close to as long as the old bull did and that he makes me as much money.

After all that, I still like the idea of adding cross breeding to my cattle herd management.  If I start looking right now for my next bull, maybe I won't be as likely to take the "less risky" route by buying another Black Angus bull.


  1. Back when I was a boyscout and our leader used to shout that he had an announcment we would all sing back

    We sold our farm
    We sold our cow
    We have no use
    For your bull now

    Sorry but that came to my head after reading this.

    I have no practical experience with cows. We raised hogs and evidently they are more lenient in the genetics because we often saved our own boars for breeding. We also bought some (probably a 50/50 split) to keep the genetic pool fresh but I never noticed a difference between litters from a bought boar and one that we saved from our own herd. I should say that I didn't notice a difference in health or stamina but I almost always could pick out the father of the litter by other physical characteristics.

    1. I've always bought registered bulls, and after doing a little rough estimating, I don't know if it would make that much economic sense to raise my own bull.

      The bulls I buy are about 18-20 months old, which means they are fall-born calves that I use on my spring-calving cows.

      I dug through some of my old sale prices and found that I sold weaned 7-8 month old steer calves in 2013 for around $1000. If I saved one of those calves to raise as a bull, he'd be over 24 months old by the time I used him (since he'd be a spring calf instead of a fall calf), which means I'd have to feed him for 15-16 months.

      My costs to keep a cow typically run somewhere around $400/yr (being extra conservative), so 16 months would be almost $550. I'd also probably want to feed him a little higher quality feed than the cows typically get, so that $550 could end up being $700.

      So far, I'd have $1700 invested in this bull. You'd think that raising a bull for $1700 would be a bargain, but I could probably buy a decent bull for $4000. I'd like to think that I can get at least a 80-120 calves out of a bull, so buying a bull would only cost an additional $20-30/calf. If I could buy a better quality bull than my cows, I might even be able to have higher quality calves that sell for enough of a premium to pay for the better bull (i.e. I could easily pay for a bull if I was getting an additional $50 per calf).

      At least that's the theory behind buying bulls instead of raising them myself, I might be completely wrong in my thinking.

  2. I think part of what makes it more economical to buy a bull in your case is the long gestation times. You calve once a year where as we ran our sows through the gestation barn about two and a half times a year. A boar born in the winter months would be ready by the fall months for breeding. Of course I have no idea what a registered boar costs but I'm guessing it is quite a bit less too. Another big advantage is we bred our pigs selectively one at a time so we could control who the father was. With a bull in a herd situation, you don't have that advantage and you could run the risk of bad genetics if the young bull you raises was put in with siblings and mother.

    1. New bulls seem to cost a lot, but as high as cattle in general are right now, I don't think $4000-6000 for a new bull is really that outrageous. The bull that I'm replacing was 7 years old, had a bit of a limp, weighed 1800 lbs., and sold for about $2600 last fall.

      It wasn't too long ago that cull bulls were going for about $0.40/lb or about $700 for my old bull, and a new bull cost at least three times or four times that. It took less cash to buy a bull back then, but actually he was more expensive.

      If I raised my own bull I wouldn't be that worried about inbreeding, I run two bulls and two breeding herds already, and it's a simple matter of keeping track of which bull goes with which herd. And if any inbreeding did happen, I just wouldn't save any replacement heifers from those cows.

      I guess that plenty of people are raising their own bulls, and I'd like to try raising one of my own in the future just to see if I can do it, but it still seems slightly risky or crazy.