A good bull will improve quality of livestock

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This is the first of a series of articles I plan to write about selection of breeding stock for commercial cattle herds. This article will start with the selection of bulls. Other articles will deal with replacement heifers, terminal breeding, culling decisions and other topics.
The reason I decided to start with bull selection is I see very few receipts for high quality, high value bulls being turned in for CAIP Cost Share. For cattle producers I feel the purchase of a high quality bull will give them the highest return on their cost share money. The CAIP program also pays for artificial insemination (AI), where high quality genetics from around the world can be obtained for breeding, but I can’t recall any receipts for this being submitted for the program last year or this year. We have local purebred cattle operations producing high quality bulls that are as good as or better than a lot of the AI sires available. These bulls can’t be produced for what a large number of local commercial producers are willing to pay, so in some cases good bulls are leaving the county and we are left with the lower quality genetics.
The selection of a good bull is the quickest and most cost-effective way for cattlemen and women to improve the quality and value of the livestock they produce. Every year we see a lot of heifers receipts for cost share and some farmers may argue that selection of high quality females for the herd is important, and it is, but not nearly as important as choosing a high quality bull. This is because the bulls used can improve or harm the gene pool of the offspring of anywhere from 15 to 30 cows in the herd.
In order to recognize the value of a good bull it may be useful to consider an abstract example of how the use of an inappropriate bull can affect the quality of the offspring of the herd when compared to purchasing one inappropriate heifer. Take as an example a herd of 25 Angus cattle and a farmer who culls one cow and buys one Holstein heifer. (Nothing against Holsteins, they are great dairy cattle, but this is a beef example.) The offspring if they are all bred to an Angus bull is 24 Angus and one Angus-Holstein cross. He has damaged the gene quality of one offspring by choosing an inappropriate heifer. Contrast that with buying a Holstein Bull to breed with the 25 cows. All of the offspring will be less than desirable as beef cattle and less valuable because of the inappropriate choice of bulls.
Turning this example around and comparing the purchase of a high quality heifer to the purchase of high quality bulls gives the same end result. Purchasing one high quality heifer affects one offspring while purchasing a high quality bull affects the entire herd.
I am not saying there is anything wrong with buying heifers, just that buying heifers is not as effective as a herd improvement strategy as it is a herd building strategy. The addition of purchased heifers can be an important strategy for replacing culled cows when the bulls being used are not appropriate for breeding replacement. An example would be when a bull is best suited for producing large frame, heavy offspring. The heifers from such a bull, if kept for breeding may be too large and require much more feed than a more moderate frame cow, resulting in the herd eating a hole in the farmers feed budget. I have written in the past about the value of purchased heifers and this will be discussed again in a future article. I encourage farmers to keep buying heifers, but in a manner that meets their goals for the herd.
The next article in the series will discuss what to look for in a good bull, and why paying extra for better genetics is a good investment.
The extension office will be closed Thursday and Friday, Nov. 28-29 for the Thanksgiving holiday.
There will be a Greenhouse Production Meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 3, at the Fairview Produce Auction in Pembroke (Christian County). The program will begin at 9:30 a.m. central time. Horticulture specialists from the University of Kentucky and Purdue University will present topics including production of annuals and perennials, controlled release fertilizers, managing multiple species in the greenhouse and greenhouse management. The Fairview Auction Manager will discuss upcoming events at the auction.
We will be presenting two online video classes on forages and health for goats and sheep in December. The webinars are produced by the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service and will be presented live at the extension office. The first will be held Tuesday, Dec. 3, and will focus on pasture and hay. The second session will be Tuesday, Dec. 10, and will cover heath and internal parasites. Both sessions will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern time. One of the speakers at the second session will be Dr. Patty Sharko who used to be the extension veterinarian at UK and is now at Clemson University. A number of producers have said what a good job she did with sheep and goats when she was at UK. This will be a good opportunity to hear from her again.
The Marion County Extension District Board will meet Friday, Dec. 6, at noon at the extension office.
We will hold an organizational meeting for a Marion County Beekeepers Association on Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 6:30 p.m. at the extension office. All active beekeepers as well as anybody interested in getting started are invited to attend. We will discuss the type of organization potential members want, including the educational topics to be pursued. If interested, please call the extension office at 270-692-2421 so we will know if there is sufficient interest to hold a meeting.
Happy Thanksgiving!

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