As Bull sale season comes around again a popular question is “How much can I afford to pay for a bull.” Too, answer a question with a question… “How much revenue loss would you have from a pasture full of open cows?” After all, we often de-value the role of the bull. We forget that he is a crucial part of the equation to making our product.
Now, to answer the question let us use an old rule of thumb. For instance, “4 to 5 times the value of a feeder calf” is a common measure used by old timers to determine the value of a bull. Using this old rule of thumb, the National Feeder and Stocker Cattle Report (Feb. 14, 2022) indicated that 550 – 600-pound calves in Oregon, Idaho and Utah sold for 168.00 per hundred-weight, and that would work out to a 600-pound calf being valued at $1,008 (600# x 1.68/lb.). If we then take ($1,008 x 4 or 5), the value of a bull would be from $4,032 to $5,040. Looks like this old rule of thumb work pretty well.
That said, there would be many bulls that bring in excess of those figures. So, what factors contribute to bulls bringing more than the average? Are they worth the extra money?
Here is another way to look at it, let us say a bull breeds 25 cows per year for 4 years resulting in 100 calves over his lifespan. With these conservative assumptions, even a small improvement in a valuable trait can greatly increase a bull’s value.
For instance, Calving Ease (CE) EPD is defined as the difference in percentage of unassisted births. So, let us say you purchase a bull that is 5 points better in Calving Ease than the breed average for current sires. For both Angus and Simmental that would mean purchasing a bull in the top 10 % of the breed for that trait. The 5-point improvement should translate to 5% more unassisted births. In the real world, it is fair to say half of assisted births do not make it. Thus, a 5% improvement in CE could easily translate to 2.5% more calves. Out of 100 calves sired over a lifetime, that’s 2.5 more calves. The added value from improved CE would be $2,500 (2.5 more calves x 500 lbs. x $2.00/lb.).
The most common example for added value of a bull is improved EPDs for weaning weight (WW). Let us say you purchase a bull with a WeaningWeight (WW) EPD of 60 (breed average for Angus is 50). That is 10 additional pounds at weaning per calf. If the bull sires 100 calves in a lifetime and 500 lb. calves are selling for $2.00/lb., then the result is $2,000 (100 calves x 10 lbs./calve = 1000 lbs. and 1000 lbs. x $2.00/lb. = $2,000) more income over his lifetime when compared to the average of current sires.
Another figure a bull buyer can look at are $ values (Weaned Calf Value ($W), Beef Value ($B), All-Purpose Index (API), Terminal Index (TI)). These values are expressed in dollars and if you match your herd needs with the correct index, they can help you be more profitable. Using EPDs and Economic Index Values (https://beef.unl.edu/using-epds-and-economic-index-values) is a good resource for learning more about the role $ values play in selection.
However, when selecting your next herd sire, I would not utilize EPD’s alone. Do not sacrifice functionality, structural soundness, docility, and other traits that can affect longevity. View purchasing a bull as an investment and treat it as such. Investing in a good bull that can improve profitable traits in your herd can allow your farm to be more competitive no matter the market dynamic.
Admitted or not, in the cow-calf business, bulls are often viewed as nothing more than necessary overhead, like fuel or feed — interchangeable commodity products, one basically the same as another. Plenty of folks base their bull-buying decisions more on price than genetic merit.
The bottom-line is, bulls are a significant contributor to profit or loss in your cattle herd. The have an impact now and for years to come if you are retaining replacement females. Look for traits that hold value in your market. Find a bull that can inject those traits. The “expense” of a bull can be a great investment in the future of your cattle herd.
How much can I afford to pay for a bull? Travis Meteer, Extension Educator, Commercial Agriculture Orr Agricultural R&D Center, University of Illinois