Our neighbors hosted their annual bull sale in March. Selecting the right bull for the herd lays the groundwork for raising good cattle. Good genetics in the bull translate into good traits in the next generation of calves.
Before we get started, here’s a little refresher on cattle terminology:
- Bull – “The Big Daddy” for the cow herd.
- Cow – A Mama who raises a baby calf.
- Heifer – A female who has not yet had a calf. Either kept in the herd to become a cow or fed to finishing weight.
- Steer – A castrated male to be fed to finishing weight.
- Calf – The baby. Heifers and steers up to one year old.
One bull can be expected to breed about 25 to 35 cows. On our farm, we turn the bulls out with the cows in mid-May so calves will begin arriving in February. Gestation time for cattle is 283 days, or about 9½ months.
Our neighbors focus on raising registered purebred herd bulls and heifers for other purebred breeders and also commercial herds like ours. Prior to their bull sale this year, they sent out catalogs and uploaded video footage of their bulls on their website. Mr. Corn Farmer (aka Mr. Cornstalk Cowboy) spent hours poring over videos of bulls walking around in pens, and examining the family tree of each bull.
Cattle folks have a good eye for judging muscle and bone structure. Sometimes they just have an intuition about a bull. They also consider the temperament; they’re definitely looking for a calm, gentle animal. Measured physical characteristics and EPD (Expected Progeny Difference) ratings that give us some insight into what we can expect out of next year’s set of calves. Birth weight and calving ease scores help indicate less stress when the calf is born. Growth rate and frame scores help select for cattle that grow to the proper size in a reasonable amount of time. Milk production scores help us raise heifers that will make good herd cows in the future. Carcass traits like rib-eye area point towards cattle that will deliver the highest quality meat at the dinner table.
Our neighbors had a great sale day. However, they’re more than just good at raising purebred Angus cattle, they’ve set a great example for their daughters who love being involved in their family’s business. They possess a strong work ethic and sense of community. They’re the type of people who come across the road and help us out when we need an extra hand.
When people consider how farming and ranching has changed over the years, I have to consider communities like mine where families and neighbors have been helping each other for over 100 years. Then I look at the kids who are building the same bonds as young as grade school, who want to grow up to do the same.
Traditions are strong and the future is bright. And that’s no bull.
Want to learn more? Visit 4M Angus. Burken Cattle also featured bulls on this sale day.