Hundreds of stock bulls will change hands over the coming months with spring pedigree sales in full swing up and down the country. It’s an important investment on a suckler farm and it should be given the time to make sure you are making the correct decision with your purchase.

For many, it’s one of the biggest spends for a few years and deserves some thought before the decision is made.

Timing is extremely important in relation to a couple of items when it comes to bull purchasing.

The bull needs to be bought well in advance of the breeding season to allow him become acclimatised to his new surroundings and settled in.

You should also get the catalogue in advance of the sale and spend time comparing bulls in the catalogue and then arrive at the sale in plenty of time to study the bulls at the pre-sale show.

WHPR herds

Bull purchasers should try to purchase bulls from WHPR-accredited herds. These herdowners have put time and effort into ensuring that the figures behind their bulls are accurate and correct. These herds have passed an ICBF inspection and have had all stock weighed on their farm to verify weight gains. These breeders will have a stamp beside their animals in catalogues at sales. They are also listed on the ICBF website under the stock bull finder online tool.

Decide what you need the bull to do

What job is the stock bull being bought to do? Is it to breed replacements or is it to breed terminal type progeny for sale or finish or maybe you need a bull that will tick both boxes. Not getting caught up on breeds is important at this point. ICBF has shown that there is more variation within breeds than there is between breeds.

Focus on quality no matter what. If it’s a bull to breed replacements, focus on the maternal index with particular focus on milk and fertility. If it’s producing finished cattle or weanlings, focus on the terminal index paying particular attention to carcase weight and carcase conformation.

Calving difficulty should be on top of the list and avoid bulls with excessive calving difficulty. Some full-time farmers may be able to deal with a higher calving difficulty figure but proceed with caution with very high calving difficulty figures.

Look at the bull

Buying a bull off a catalogue page or website photo isn’t advised. Just because a bull has high indexes doesn’t mean he will be fit for purpose and it’s important that you give the bull a full physical examination before you make the purchase.

Good feet are essential and the bulls feet should be checked prior to purchase.

There are a number of areas which are very important. Look at the bull’s overall conformation to make sure you are happy. Look for length and a clean body. Make sure the bull has good feet and stay away from bulls whose hooves have been pared or trimmed as this will have to be continued later in life. Make sure the bull stands up straight in his back legs (these are the legs that will be under the most pressure when serving) and make sure the bull walks well with no limps or stiffness.

Bulls should be fertility tested before sale.

Obviously, one of the most important parts of a bull are his testicles so make sure all is OK in this department. Many pedigree breeders and society sales have moved to fertility testing bulls but still carry out a quick examination for any deformities. Talk to the breeder about the bull and their pre-sale feed and health management. Don’t attempt to buy a breeding bull off a web camera without seeing him or getting someone to look at him for you.

Understanding the catalogue

Nearly all bull sales now carry the ICBF catalogue format at sales. This allows purchasers to compare different bloodlines and also the terminal and replacement index and what helps make up these indexes. The terminal and replacement indexes are detailed on the catalogue page. For those farmers participating in BDGP, a genotyped four- or five-star bull on either index needs to be on the farm on 30 June 2021. This means that a bull must have four or five stars in either of the green boxes to be eligible.

Calving difficulty is another very important figure and for heifers you should aim for 5% or below and for mature cows, you should stay below 12%. However, this will depend on factors such as cow type, etc.

Reliability should also be looked at and, if possible, buy a genotyped bull as a genotyed bull will have greater reliability and less chance of his figures changing in the future. Genotyped bulls will have a helix stamp in the catalogue if genotyped.

Keeping the stock bull healthy

It’s essential that you don’t overwork a young stock bull in his first year. Twenty to 25 cows is the maximum in a young bull’s first year serving.

After a bull is bought, he should be allowed settle in the farm with a few cows in a paddock and then gradually introduced to the breeding herd.

The bull should be observed mounting and serving to make sure he is inseminating the cow on heat. You should also keep accurate breeding records and if there is a high number of repeats, prompt further investigation will be needed. Stock bulls should go on the same vaccination programme as the cow herd and should be dosed for worms and fluke accordingly.