We’re starting to get in the thick of the bull-selling season. So far, early sales are doing quite well. Here at WLJ we are just completing our periodic “Bull Survey.” We do this every few years to measure the bull market for our customers and spot production or marketing trends in our industry.
We are proud of our readers and I do like to brag on you. You guys clearly adjust to the times, markets, and use all the tools available to you. We have done this survey for over 25 years and quite honestly the numbers don’t change all that much, but we do see trends emerging. For instance, the use of hybrid bulls has grown over the years. More readers are using SimAngus, Gelbvieh/Angus, and a variety of Continental and English genetics than in the past to tap into that hybrid vigor.
When it comes to using other technologies, such as DNA, we are improving. DNA technology has been around for a while but was mostly used in sire identification in large multi-bull breeding pastures simply to identify parentage for purebred breeders. Commercial breeders didn’t care all that much. Now, in just a short time, the use of DNA has become more varied, such as to identify genetic deficiencies. Most registered breeders won’t use a bull that doesn’t have enhanced EPDs or genetic profile. Commercial breeders are starting to use DNA testing to determine which replacement heifers to introduce to the herd because the initial investment is now huge. A $25 test seems a good investment for the reproductive factor. The longer a female stays in the herd, the more profitable the ranch operation is. Longevity or “Stayability” is an extremely important profit trait, and DNA technology is helping commercial operators figure it out.
Our readers’ herd size has grown by about 25 percent since our last “Bull Survey.” In 2014, our average herd size was 293 head, the lowest it has ever been, but that herd has grown to 376 head. The difference is simply drought. In 2013-14 we were in the heart of the most devastating, widespread drought in recent memory. We are still in a growth phase too. The average number of replacement heifers readers said they’re raising jumped nearly 40 head to 107 head of replacement heifers, far higher than the typical 10-15 percent replacement rate for commercial breeders.
The average number of bulls used is up to 18.5 bulls and those breeders plan on replacing 5.7 bulls this next year, almost 15 percent above 2014. We are still in a growth market, at least for genetics. In short, WLJ readers represent a very large bull-buying audience.
Most bull buyers are looking for the same traits in their selection criteria. Calving ease has always been at the top of the list. Growth was ranked No. 3, losing ground to maternal traits which took second place in terms of importance. But other things like breeder reputation, guarantee, and customer service motivated readers to buy from certain outfits.
Over the years, the purebred industry has been producing more and more data on their genetic traits, to the point where it is confusing and more cattlemen need help sorting the data-driven genetics. They also want help before the sale and after. Bottom line: They are looking for a genetic partner.
It looks like more breeders, both registered and commercial, are turning to the use of artificial insemination, or AI. This year 46 percent of readers reported using AI. More and more commercial breeders are breeding first-calf heifers AI and are breeding an average of 136 head. The survey is telling us that cattlemen are spending a lot of time and attention on getting nothing but the best, most productive heifers in the herd. If they use a timed AI protocol, those first-cycle heifer calves are a good way to select replacement heifers in the coming year. They generally have the shortest gestation and are the most fertile heifers, meaning they will make the most productive cows over their lifetimes.
We have lots of information to share with you, but I just wanted to give you a quick snapshot of our survey results before bull -buying season is underway. Western Livestock Journal, combined with our stellar staff of fieldmen—Jim Gies, Logan Ipsen, Devin Murnin, and myself—can deliver results when marketing your livestock. Don’t forget our online, digital presence as well. We’ve improved it and are working to make it meet the needs of the 21st century rancher. — PETE CROW