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Herd Sire Selection - Time to Make a Positive Change

By Kevin Thompson, Research Center Director, Middle Tennessee Research and Education Center


Originally published in the January 2021 issue of the Tennessee Cattle Business

The selection and purchase of new genetics for your operation should be a process consuming both time and effort. Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to select and purchase herd sires for many producers, all with varying operational and goal-based requirements.


The starting point to identify prospective bulls meeting your herd goals is to search out reputable breeders producing either a number of bulls or breeders consigning their bulls to performance testing programs. This is a critical requirement as we are able to improve our selection accuracy through comparison of multiple individuals’ physical and genetic potential in relation to their contemporaries. We simply increase our chances of making a correct selection decision with increased comparison and information.


Once a source of prospects is identified obtain a sale catalog in enough time pre-sale to study EPD’s, indexes, ratios, actual performance and pedigrees. Utilize this time of study to eliminate those bulls possessing parameters outside of your selection criteria. This will save making purchasing errors during the real-time auction process. The pre-sort on paper will allow you to be more effective in conducting the physical inspection of bulls by allocating your time to only viewing those bulls that meet your operation’s goals.


Equal to bull data is the physical inspection of potential herd sires. “If the numbers fit but the bull type doesn’t then that prospect should not be considered. Also, if the bull type fits but numbers do not, mark him off.”

Critical points to the physical inspection process;

Pay close attention to foundational traits such as; feet, legs, shoulders, hip, topline, neck and head. All these are critical structural components that must work in unison for the prospective herd sire to pass his genetic material forward. Close attention must be paid to these characteristics as locomotion is necessary for the bull to pass his genetic potential forward. Viewing and evaluating the bulls prior to sale day is very helpful in avoiding making purchasing errors. It is impossible to see a bull’s feet while he is in the sale ring.


Muscle type and muscle volume are key indicators of yield; protein production, quality pounds that can impact offspring’s marketable weight and harvest potential. In addition, muscling promotes proper skeletal function and longevity as an efficient and impactful breeder.


Body capacity; a function of forage and nutrient intake required to maintain sufficient body condition during critical activity periods and environmental stresses. In addition, capacity can be an indicator of physical capability due to heart and lung function allowed by available space within a more capacious thoracic cavity.


Disposition; this can easily be considered the primary selection criteria. A heritable trait that can result in a dangerous presence within the herd if not included in the selection process. Due to heritability, this selection decision is impactful within our herds for many generations due to replacement heifer retention.


Once the sire selection and purchase process are complete the work to take advantage of these new genetics begins.

This stage requires dedicated follow through to ensure that the marketable calf crop and replacement heifers reach maximum return on dollars invested.


Castrate bull calves at birth or at least prior to 3 months of age; adds value, reduces future stress that could negate performance. Prevents unintended pregnancy of heifer mates.


Incorporate a 3-months of age calf vaccination protocol as this ensures the health of calf crop and their ability to reach genetic potential for weaning performance.


If practical wean the calf crop, vaccinate, and hold calves to added weight. This practice can increase market desirability due to offering a healthier calf more likely to perform at a high level for the next phase or owner.


Follow through with proper development of retained daughters in order that they have the best chance to breed early (first third) in the herd’s calving season and remain within the herd for many years.


Conduct yearly Breeding Soundness Exams and if the sire is utilized across both spring and fall breeding a 2x per year BSE is ideal.


Frequent observation of herd sire is critical. Observe the bull’s soundness of feet, legs, shoulders and hips. Observing body condition score is very critical as the bull should remain between 4 and 5 to ensure his ability to perform effectively. Consistent observation of the bull or bulls’ attitude/disposition.


Remove bull or bulls from the herd to maintain age uniformity of calf crop and to prevent accidental mating of offspring. In addition, this uniformity results in greater options for marketing. The removal period is most beneficial in allowing a rest period for re-conditioning and returning to a pre-breeding body condition score of 6.


Tennessee is home to many seedstock producers raising and offering genetically superior herd sires. The final point I will offer is that a bull bred and raised in your state/region is a better purchase for your program than one raised in an altering states’ environment. The inability to adapt to the environment can negatively impact the ability of the herd sire to accomplish a successful breeding percentage and even impede his offspring’s opportunity to reach their true genetic potential.


Good luck with your bull selection and purchasing this year and feel free to contact me with any questions. - kthomp44@utk.edu

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