I had lost 3 bulls last year in the middle of breeding season: one went lame, one got injured, and one just quit the cows. I had scrambled to find a replacement. So this year I am in the market for two more.
There was a Red Angus bull sale today at a ranch just 5 miles north. It took most of an hour to get there, however, as I had to follow the gravel road down the West Bouler to McLeod, then the state highway into Big Timber, and take the interstate back up the Yellowstone. It would have taken about the same amount of time had I gone straight over the mountain ahorseback, and it would have saved some cost, but the drifts up there can be pretty deep this time of year.
Buying bulls is quite a bit more sophisticated now than simply looking them over and making a choice. Each bull is presented with a set of measurements as long as your arm: Birth Weight, Adjusted Weaning Weight, Yearling Weight, Average Daily Gain, Rib Eye Area (measured by ultrasound), InterMuscular Fat, and Testicular Circumferance. Along with these are a set of statistics regarding the Estimated Progeny Difference, which predict how the genetics of this bull will compare with herd averages for all the above measurements, plus Calving Ease Direct, Milk production, Total Maternal, Maintenance Energy, Heifer Pregnancy, Calving Ease Maternal, and Stayability.
No bull is perfect, and some bulls have better genetics for growth performance while others excell in maternal characteristics. Each buyer must decide which statistics are most valuable to his particular breeding program and how much he can afford to spend for better genetics.
Before the sale the pens were dotted with men looking over bulls and making notes in the sale catalogue. Lunch was served in the shop.
The auction started with the bulls that had the looks and the genetics that are most in demand. Some two hundred buyers were in the stands, with another hundred standing by their phones to call in bids.
The first four bulls at this sale sold for $12,500 apiece! Now assuming that they will each breed 20 cows a year for 5 years, that's a mere $125 for each calf they sire - plus, of course, the cost of interest, feed, vet bills, and the risk of injury. A little high for my budget...
One bull had caught my attention. I liked his looks and I liked his numbers, and I was ready to bid when he came through the door. But there were some other people who like him too, and the bull went for $7250. Still out of my price range.
Finally a bull came through that wasn't commanding much interest. He wasn't as impressive as some of the other bulls, but he wasn't bad. His mother was a young cow, and he was born a little later than some of the other bulls. His EPDs were above breed average in those traits I consider to be most important to my program. I bought him for $1500.
The one I had liked best was expected to be a better bull. But was he five times better? I don't think so. Was I penny wise and pound foolish? I hope not. Would the future production of the daughters from the better bull pay for his higher cost? Maybe. Am I second guessing myself? Definitely!