Better Bulls

Match the Right Bull to Your Operation

Long-time cattlemen, Grady Sparks (right) and Ron Dugger, tell bull buyers to think about these 8 points before they choose their next herd sire.

Grady Sparks, of Alabama's Drummond Sparks Beef, said producing a great bull is only half of the job. Matching that bull to the right operation is every bit as important. He recommends buyers consider the following to help them get a better bull the next time they are in the market.

1. Reputation. Always buy from a reputable, knowledgeable, honest breeder. Ask around if you find someone from whom you're interested in buying. Don't take everything at face value. If it sounds like it's too good of a deal, it's probably not much of a deal at all.

2. Price Research. There are a lot of places to research sales results online and look at average prices. Look at production sales in your region to get an idea of price range for the type of bull you are looking to buy.

3. Private Treaty. This is a good way to build a relationship between a buyer and a seller. Spend time visiting an operation and let that bull breeder know what you are trying to accomplish. He can help you get there with the best bull to fit your individual goals.

4. Expectations. Don't overstock when it comes to bull-to-cow ratio. It needs to be right for the age of the bull, or you increase calving intervals and create less uniformity in your calf crop. This ratio depends on the age of the bull. Sparks said the general rule of thumb is 18 to 20 cows for a yearling bull, 25 to 30 for a mature bull.

5. Avoid Inbreeding. It's important to decide what your goals are as a producer. If you are going to keep your own replacements and have one bull, it's important to change bulls every two years to avoid having a bull breed his daughters. In a terminal herd, where all calves are sold, this is not an issue, and a bull's years of service at a particular operation can extend to eight to 10 years.

6. Don't Follow Fads. Sparks stressed it's never a good idea to take anything to the extreme. If the trend is downsizing, for example, he said it's good to stay in the middle. His bulls are a 5.5 to 6.3 frame size.

7. Consider Inputs. A bull that sires 1,800-pound cows that wean 600-pound calves will make a huge dent in any operation's profitability. Inputs are simply too high for what you get back on that type of cow.

8. A Clear Purpose. Never pick a bull without being able to articulate what your purpose is as a cattle producer. Purpose affects the bull you need to be successful.