For seedstock producers, each calf crop comes with the question of which male calves will be bulls and which will be steers.
Ben Eggers, manager for Sydenstricker Genetics in Audrain County, Missouri, says for most calves the decision is made early.
“We pretty much make that decision at weaning time,” he says. “There’ll still be a few fall out after weaning time.”
Eggers says there are several factors to consider about whether a calf might make a good bull.
“Growth, soundness, testicular development and overall health would probably be the main things to qualify them to make them a bull,” he says.
Curt Rincker, who owns and operates Rincker Simmentals with his family at Shelbyville, Illinois, says he watches for several things in calves to help make that decision.
“There are multiple things that go into the bull selection side,” he says. “We look at quality traits up front. They’ve got to be structurally sound, No. 1. But no doubt rate of gain is important.”
Rincker says phenotype is also important for bulls, especially when it comes to sales.
“We want them to look good when people look at them,” he says. “It’s the old ‘back off and look at them’ type thing.”
They use GeneSeek to test bulls so they can let people know the genetic makeup of the animals, such as whether they are homozygous black or homozygous polled. Rincker says they also utilize enhanced expected progeny differences (EPDs) to help producers know what they are getting.
He says they also look at scrotal size and take early measurements.
Another factor to consider on bull candidates is their behavior.
“Disposition’s really critical for us,” he says. “They’ve got to have a disposition that’s quiet enough to work with.”
Each calf is evaluated separately. Eggers says about 60 to 70% of their calves stay as bulls, but they don’t start out targeting that number.
“It’s more each individual year,” he says. “There’s not really a percentage that we try to do.”
Rincker also says each calf is its own decision.
“Every calf’s on its own merit,” he says.
Among the bull calves, Eggers says wellness and behavior can help set them apart.
“First off, a healthy calf that is doing well has a good disposition,” he says. “One that’s structured really well, wide-based, has some frame, presses the scales down at weaning — you can assume he’ll be one of the top ones at yearling time.”
Eggers says having a good stretch and frame is good for a yearling bull, and helps them attract buyers and be ready to go quickly.
“We are a sale barn state,” he says.
Rincker says calving ease is the most popular trait to select for when using EPDs.
“Probably the ones that are most popular for our customers are at least average calving ease or better,” Rincker says. “Most people are looking for big, strong bulls that can go out there and maintain themselves with reasonable size herds.”
Benjamin Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.