With the spring bull sales just around the corner, now is the time to spend some time planning for those new purchases.

First of all, evaluate the current herd sire battery for their physical and reproductive soundness, as well as the performance of their progeny.

Once you’ve done that, the following outline will provide some coaching suggestions to establish your game plan:

• Examine Herd Goals: Herd goals serve as the foundation for sire selection and provide guidance as to traits with the most economic importance. Defining the production and marketing system, along with management strategies and environment are key factors.

• Determine Herd Strengths and Weaknesses: Basic records are necessary to identify herd strengths and weaknesses. Performance parameters such as calving percentage, weaning percentage, weaning weights, sale weights, carcass merit, feed usage, etc. are necessary to serve as the basis for assessing areas of strength and those needing attention.

• Establish Selection Priorities: Concentrate on those factors which stand to have the largest impact on profitability. Remember that income is derived from performance which in influenced by both genetics and environment/management. Focus on the handful of priority traits rather than attempting to change many traits simultaneously.

Use selection tools

• Utilize Selection Tools: Genetic differences across breeds have been well established, and utilization of different breeds in a complimentary fashion through structured crossbreeding plans provides the opportunity for improvement in multiple traits.

Most importantly, heterosis attained through crossbreeding has been shown to have significant favorable impacts on traits such as reproductive efficiency and cow longevity which are critical for herd profitability. EPDs and indexes are available for many traits of economic importance. Again, with the large number of EPDs at our disposal, the critical step is to determine the EPDs which are most important and establish benchmarks relative to each.

• Establish Benchmarks: Several tools can be utilized to assist in the determination of EPD specifications. EPD values for current and past sires can be used as benchmarks. With these benchmarks, EPD specifications can be set to reflect desired increase, moderation, or stabilization of performance for a particular trait.

• Find Source: There are many sources of bulls that warrant consideration — production sales, test stations, and private treaty sales. Of critical importance is that the bull be from a reputable source and breeder which will stand behind their product.

• Do Your Homework: Closely study the sale catalog, performance pedigree, and data. On paper, determine which bulls meet the EPD and other specifications that have been established and eliminate those which do not. Stay firm to the selection criteria and qualifications/specifications that have been established. All this can and should be accomplished prior to attending a bull sale.

• Take a Look: Once the list has been narrowed to only bulls which meet the criteria, these bulls can be further evaluated and selection refined. Having a list of suitable bulls prior to arrival at the auction or farm will not only save time, but also assist in making sure the right bull for the situation is purchased. Upon narrowing the potential candidates on paper, the bulls can be evaluated for suitability of phenotypic traits and the potential candidate list shortened even further.

• Make a Sound Investment: For many cow calf producers, purchasing a new bull is a relatively infrequent occurrence. This emphasizes the importance of selecting the right bull, particularly in single sire herds. The value of the right bull cannot be underestimated. Investments in good genetics will pay dividends both short and long-term through the influence the bull has on each calf crop as well as his daughters that are retained in the herd.

• Proper Management: Lastly, proper management and nutrition are essential for the bull to perform satisfactorily during the breeding season. With most new herd sires purchased as yearling bulls — management prior to, during, and after the first breeding season is particularly important. Plan ahead by acquiring a new yearling bull at least 60 to 90 prior to the breeding season so that ample time is available to allow for adjustment to a new environment, commingling with other bulls, and getting the bull in proper breeding body condition.