springtime, it has rained (a bit) - it's time to buy a
and I have been associated with cattle all of our life. Judy's
ancestors started breeding cattle on "Sarina" station
near Mackay in the 1860's. My ancestors started breeding dairy
cattle near Dunedin New Zealand at about the same time. My father
drove a bullock team in the Kyogle district of NSW before buying a
dairy farm on which I was brought up. Almost all of the descendants
in both families followed the cattle trail. (We are the only traitors
to have added sheep.) We have thus made most of the mistakes you can
in cattle, so maybe you can learn from our experience.
regular problem in cattle breeding is choosing a bull. We have bulls
for sale now, and have put together all we know on how to go about
choosing a bull, even if it is your first bull.
easiest and cheapest way to improve your herd is by buying a better
bull. How do you decide what bull to buy? Four factors are of
paramount importance in determining the profitability of commercial
cattle breeding operations - fertility, longevity, ability to
thrive in your environment without chemicals and supplements, and
what the customer wants.
how do we set out on the adventure of buying a bull? Below are some
things to consider:
depends on your goals and the breed of your cows.
choice of breed is beyond what we will discuss here, but questions to
you want beef, milk or versatile cattle?
market are you aiming at? Butcher, store, export, specialized?
you have any personal preferences on breed or colour?
you want to breed stud cattle?
are the weak points of your breeding herd now, and what do you want
to change in them?
climate will your cattle need to cope with?
feeds will be available - natural pasture, cultivated crops,
irrigated crops, grain-based supplements, other supplements?
is important to you - parasite resistance, drought tolerance,
heat tolerance, docility, fertility, growth rate, size, popularity,
polled or horned?
you understand what is meant by the terms - pure bred, cross bred,
hybrid vigor, composite breeding, and line breeding?
you have decided what breeds to choose from, the next decision is,
which breeder to choose.
you have no knowledge of the market for bulls, it is probably worth
talking to two or three breeders to see how they choose their bulls,
how they feed their bulls, how they handle their bulls and how they
record and identify their cattle. Are they helpful with information?
Will they be helpful after you have bought the bull? Will they give
pedigree information? How quiet are their cattle? What are their
is also a good idea to buy your bulls from long term breeders in
tough environments - that will have weeded out the poor
Bull Sale or Paddock?
can buy bulls from an organised bull sale or straight from the
paddock. Pro's and con's are:
bulls are usually overfed, often on grain. Grain feeding a ruminant
animal decreases its fertile life span as well as causing other
problem such as arthritic joints. If you take a pampered
grain-stuffed bull from a stud-bull feed lot, and drop him onto your
hungry hills to survive on sparse natural pasture, he will be too
stressed for some time to even notice your curvaceous heifers.
bulls are usually covered with a layer of fat, and carefully groomed
and spruced to look their best. Under such conditions, even a poor
bull can look OK.
organised bull sales give you an opportunity to see a range of bulls
in one spot, talk to a number of owners, study catalogues and get an
idea of market values.
from the paddock gives you a monopoly on the time and attention of
the breeder. Usually he will tell you honestly the good and bad
points of various bulls he has for sale. You can see them in their
natural environment, judge temperament, see what they are being fed
and judge the character and competence of the breeder.
things are important in selecting a bull:
and Libido - this is the number one of bull selection. If he
is not fertile, nothing else matters and he is hamburger material.
- quiet cattle produce tender meat. They are also easier and
safer to handle.
Soundness - does he have the body shape, skeleton and muscles
to allow him to do all the things required of him and his offspring
in calving, in the paddock or in the feedlot?
Potential - are his genes likely to improve your herd?
Resistance - will he and his offspring survive your parasites
without needing chemicals, losing condition or dying?
Tolerance - your bull needs to thrive in whatever climate you
plan for him.
Quality - there is great variation in taste, tenderness and
marbling between breeds, and within breeds.
- do you buy young, mature or proven (used) bulls?
look at each of these in more detail:
secret to profitable beef breeding is a high reproductive rate -
you need more live calves per cow, and that requires a fertile bull.
A bull that is queer, timid, impotent or infertile is about as useful
as more sand in the Sahara.
bull must be masculine. He must look like a bull, not like a steer
or a cow. He should have a big head and shoulders, and darker colour
on his head. The hair on his head should be coarse and sparse, not
long, thin and silky. He should have a strong poll and crest, and an
eye for the ladies. Highly masculine bulls create highly feminine
cows and promote fertility in the herd. A feminine looking bull is
probably a sub-fertile bull.
essential equipment must be sound. His penis should not dangle down
where he will step on it, catch it on logs, or get it full of spear
grass. The sheath should be tight. His testicles should be large,
parallel, not twisted, symmetrical, football shaped (point up) and
the same size. They should not be fatty or held close to the body
where body heat will kill sperm. Nor should they dangle so low they
will trip him or get bruised when he runs.
or savage cattle are a danger to themselves, to handlers and to other
animals. They lose weight during handling and transport, cause
bruising, take a long time to settle into yards and feedlots, and
produce tough meat ("dark cutting carcass") if
slaughtered when stressed. Feedlot statistics show that flighty
animals don't gain weight or convert feed as well as calm
cattle, thus reducing profit. Temperament is also heritable, so it is
important to choose a bull with good temperament. Things that may
help in assessing temperament:
you look at a mob in a yard, the quiet animal will be out in front,
looking at you calmly. It will have a relaxed look and may even chew
a cud. The timid one will be hiding up the back. The stirrer will be
pushing the mob around with a wild look in his eye. The mad thing
will be crashing the fence or putting handlers onto the fence.
you put animals into a crush, the quiet animal moves in calmly and
stands waiting to see what will happen next. The stirry animal will
snort, shuffle and try to turn around. The mad thing will take an
age to get into the crush and then snort at handlers and try to
charge the gates.
you let animals out of the crush, the quiet one walks out in their
own time. The stirry one runs out with relief. The mad thing rushes
out, hits its hips on posts and runs to the far corner of the yard
with a wild look over the gate.
you walk towards an animal, the quiet one will let you come close
before moving off. The nervous one will keep as far away as possible
and watch you all the time.
at the whirl of hair on his nose. It should NOT be low down on his
nose - preferably higher than the eyes.
bottle fed animals will be very quiet, even walking up to humans,
but are best avoided unless they are perfect in every other way.
Because of the bottle feeding and the excessive and kindly handling,
they have lost their fear of humans. They will be difficult to drive
and in certain circumstances could become dangerous (a bit like the
kid that has never been smacked).
to look for here are:
he horned, scurred or polled? Dehorned cattle are safer to handle
and more acceptable to most buyers. Dehorning is one unpleasant job
you can avoid or reduce by using a polled bull.
his hooves straight, strong and black? Overlong, crossing or crooked
hooves may need trimming on soft ground.
his muzzle broad? If so, he and his offspring can take more grass
at from front and back, is his body symmetrical? Is it wide and
his legs strong and easy moving? He may end up weighing a tonne -
will his legs hold up? Avoid straight "peg legs". When
he walks out, back feet should end up close to the front footprints.
are the things you cannot see clearly, but the seller may have
information on. Various genetic and other measurements may give you
ideas on what the bull or his breed will contribute to:
weight - it is best to have small calves and easy births.
rate - after the small calf, it is best if he grows quickly.
tenderness - some people test for the "tenderness
for Marbling - again there is a genetic test that may have
& Longevity - the ideal bull is young and proven with a
genetic or breed history of longevity.
- will this bull reliably stamp out his likeness and qualities
on his offspring? This depends on the dominance of his genes and the
history of his breeding. "Mongrel bred" bulls provide
poor predictability in their progeny.
characteristics - useful breeds are those with predictable
properties that bulls pass onto their offspring. The obvious one is
colour. Others are more tender, tastier, more marbled, more muscled,
more fertile, more heat or cold tolerant, more parasite resistant.
Listen to these claims and seek real evidence that they are true.
big problems are ticks, buffalo flies and worms. Generally this comes
down to the history of the breed or herd. How has it evolved?
for many generations, the herd has been culled by the parasites
themselves, those that survive and breed must be parasite resistant
the cattle have been pampered by humans, protected by chemicals and
selected by Judges in Show rings, they will probably look
magnificent but die if exposed to parasites without chemical
cattle should be able to cope easily with the expected climatic
extremes of your area. This largely comes down to skin and hair
heat tolerance, the ideal cattle have red, brown, yellow or white
hair colour with a dark or black skin. The hair should be sleek,
short and shiny to reflect the sun's heat. It is an advantage
if the cattle are able to sweat thru their skin.
cold tolerance, the ideal cattle are black cattle with black skins
and long rough hair that will absorb the sun's heat more
fully, and retain body heat.
cope with extremes of temperature, cattle need a winter coat which
is shed quickly and completely at the onset of spring.
get tasty, tender meat requires attention to detail in breeds, sires
and feeding. Much of our meat has become tough, flavourless and
unhealthy because Show judges, feedlots and butchers have focused on
quantity, speed and cost of meat production. (When slaughter costs
are quoted as $'s per head, it is cheaper per kg to slaughter
elephants.) So we have huge fast growing animals that can fatten
quickly in low-cost grain based factory feedlots. The meat loses
flavour, and is rightly thought to cause health problems. How do we
produce for meat quality?
vary, with Waigu, Jersey, Angus, Hereford and Senepol famed for
tasty meat. (A full discussion of breeds must wait for another
your breed, there are animals with more tasty meat. Try to identify
them by tasting their offspring, testing genetics or other ways.
with a dark oily streak down their back are said to have superior
tenderness is also correlated with bone fineness. Animals with flat
rib bones rather than rounded bones are also said to be more tender.
to consider are:
young weaner bull will be cheaper, and you can help him adapt to
your property, handling and feed regime before you expect him to
settle down and work. The disadvantages are that he may change as he
grows, and you have to feed him for a year before he starts
mature bull (2 year old) should be ready to work as soon as he hits
the paddock (unless he has been stuffed with grain). You can also
see exactly what he looks like. But bulls at this age will generally
be the most expensive.
used bull will be proven on fertility, adaptability and temperament.
He will often be cheaper, but he has fewer years left. How many
depends on his age, his breeding and how he has been fed. Pasture
fed bulls will last longer than grain fed.
Why Buy Our Cattle?
Judy and I have each been around cattle all of
our now long life - beef and dairy, stud and commercial, large
and small properties. We have never sold bulls in a stud sale, nor
have we ever fed grain to any cattle or entered them in a show. You
will see our cattle in their working clothes. We do not inoculate or
immunize and minimize the use of chemicals. We have never fed or
injected anti-biotics or hormone growth promotants. Our cattle are
treated well and handled quietly but get absolutely minimal
supplementary feeding or veterinary services.
you are interested in buying or looking at our cattle, please
newsletter goes to a lot of sheep people too. If you do not wish
to see future newsletters on cattle, or multi-species grazing please
Viv & Judy Forbes.