Approaching this year’s sales with focus

Approaching the bull selling season, producers are now starting to receive the annual invitations to attend bull walks, open days and of course attend the actual sale.  This lead up period can often be overwhelming for many people, particularly given the amount of data that is now offered as part of the package of information accompanying any breeders catalogue.

Making sense of the data available, and not being overwhelmed by it is crucial.  It’s worth taking some time at the start of the season to lay out a strategy that can be used to manage the season and ensure that the right bull is found for a breeding program.

In the first instance, being clear about the objectives for a breeding program are essential.  Many producers don’t always take the time to consider two key questions.  The first:

  • “What am I attempting to achieve in my program?”

And the second question,

  • “How well am I achieving this so far?”

One of the most overlooked areas in breeding herds is the question of “how well am I achieving this so far?”  Many producers often assume that a new bull or a team of bulls can correct much of the issues they have in their herd.  In reality, bulls are only part of the solution.

Looking at herd performance should lead producers to consider how well they are managing the environmental effects that impact on the genetics they have within their herd.  It’s often easy to forget that the appearance of the animal is a result of the interaction between genetics and environment.

Where performance is less than desired, it’s important to consider if this is the result of the environment.  Less than effective management of nutrition, either through grazing management or other factors such as stocking density can limit the full expression of the genetics already within a herd.  Adding new genetics or upgrading genetics through new bulls may not result in any significant improvement in the programs production without resolving those issues.

However, if nutrition and environmental impacts are managed as well as possible, genetic improvement offers the next option for producers seeking to drive their system.  The question regarding the goals of the program is therefore important as the bull sale catalogues arrive.  The focus at this point should be on the traits that are essential to achieve outcomes associated with markets or with breeding outcomes. 

These two questions offer a focal point to start considering the genetics that are best suited to a herd, and they type of bull that should be considered in the lead up to a sale. 

While there are many traits for producers to consider, there are some simple steps to help narrow the choice down to a group of bulls that can move a program in the desired production direction.  Breed Indexes offer the best starting point in a search. 

Angus New Zealand publishes a Self-replacing Index, an Angus Pure Index, and a Heifer Dairy Terminal Index.  These indexes refer to specific markets, however they have also considered the emphasis that should be placed on various genetic traits in order to achieve the most balanced outcome for a breeder seeking a new sire.

In identifying “what I am trying to achieve” a producer can start to narrow their search towards bulls that are best suited to a production system closest to their own enterprise.  In order to consolidate their list further, it’s worth looking only at those bulls that are above the published breed average for the Index and for bulls born in the same year.

This process often serves to narrow a selection list down considerably.  In order to start addressing the improvements that have been identified in order to better achieve the goals held by the business, the list of bulls can be re ranked to reflect the emphasis on specific traits that are more important to the end goal.

It is essential this re ranking is done last, and only done with the bulls that have been prelisted as above average for an index.  Making the selection in this process ensure there has been a balance with appropriate emphasis across the traits of importance for the market end point.  This helps manage and reduce the risk of single trait selection.

Ideally, at the end of this process, producers should have a list of bulls to consider.  Equally, if they have a set of criteria for Index and then traits, they can apply this criteria to any catalogue.  Either way, there should be only a few bulls identified from a catalogue for closer physical inspection.

A key suggestion at this point is to actually list those selected bulls on a paddock / sale inspection sheet.  This sheet would list the structural assessment criteria to consider.  The catalogue could then be put aside.  Leaving the catalogue aside – preferably at home helps avoid the temptation of going back and looking at all the bulls offered!

It’s a temptation and a risk.  Bulls may look physically impressive but genetically may not suit the program.  In the excitement of sales, many bulls have been bought on looks and one or two traits that really don’t take the herd towards those goals identified at the start of the process.

A bull check sheet on the other hand, helps retain focus, and ensure the chosen bulls are all fairly compared and considered.  This addresses any issues associated with temperament, structure of other physical traits along with the genetic potential of the future sire. 

Creating and maintaining focus is essential in sire selection.  The process can be a long one but does pay off in both the choice of the right sire and in shaping the herds future direction.  Knowing where a program is heading and what it needs in a clear manner helps manage the information overload this season invariably brings. 

Download Bulls Assessment Checklist

Written for AngusNZ by Alastair Rayner

Principal – RaynerAg