Tis the season to market bulls

by Molly Clubb | Mar 16, 2010

While Spring is the season we often think about going out in the pasture for our own "Longhorn Baby Easter Egg Hunt," looking for those cute little babies, it is also the season we start to think about the next generation. Thousand of emails, phone calls, and website hits are going to be made over the next couple of months. The battle is fierce, the gain is substantial, and the hunt is about the most fun you can legally have! While most breeders pray to find a cute little heifer in the pasture, some wiser breeders look for a bull! No matter what the economy, no matter how full a pasture is, a great young bull can be the most valuable addition to your pasture.

If you are a small breeder or a large breeder a good crop of bulls can put you on the map. Some of the smallest breeders have the biggest names because of the ability to create a good crop or even a single great bull. Likewise the addition of one bull to the herd can change everything about your program and have people flocking to your pastures.

The first question you have to ask yourself is, "does my bull really ring the bell?" This is perhaps the hardest question to ask. Everyone thinks they have the best bull... if you don't, then you are trying to sell a bull you don't like so you can add the next best bull.

Here are a few other questions you might want to ask yourself.

  • Do I have a bull that corrects most of the faults in my cows?
  • Do I have a bull that I take a lot of pictures of?
  • Do I have a bull that visitors fall in love with?
  • Do I have a bull that I would spend $1,000 advertising?
  • Do I have a bull that I would hang a picture of on my wall?
  • If I needed to move him today could I find a new home for him?

Why are these questions you would want to ask? Simple, if the bull in your pasture is the best, then the answer to all of these should be yes! If you have answered no to any of these you are either doing the bull a disservice or he is doing you one. Which means you are just keeping him around to make you feel better. Nothing wrong with that, almost everyone does it. These are as much pets as they are business tools and inventory.

If you did say no, then you should pull the bull out of the pasture right now and find a nice little five acre play area that you can keep him and a couple of steers as a fun pasture. Let's think progress... What do you like, color, body, size, horns, pedigree, personality, all of the above and then some?

Wait, before we go shopping let's set a few ground rules. First, if you are going to promote this new bull as the "best bull" you have to define what that is. Be specific, and be honest to yourself. If you are looking to the industry for answers the goal is cut and dry. The more complete the bull the more he is worth. You have to look at the top to breed to it. If you are trying to build a whole new line, you have your work cut out for you and investment is an understatement.
If you are just trying to make modest gains in your program a full time bull may not be the answer for you. If modest gains are enough to suite your program then you may want to consider one of three choices.
First is the least expensive. Artificial Insemination is cheap and most effective at improving your program. A herd of 10 - 15 cows can be bred this way for $1000 - $1500 or less including semen. Semen cost varies, but some of the best bulls can be bought for under $100, and most of the highly advertised bulls are $100. Your vet or a local cow man can usually get the job done for $15 - $30 a head. The calves will be easy to sell and/or they can replace your current cows to create the next generation that is more consistent and easier to breed with. The sale of one calf or a couple of cows will easily pay for this option.
Option two is a little more work and takes many phone calls and research with the options being a little more restricted. You can lease, borrow, or pasture breed your cows. Leasing and borrowing a bull is easy. Everyone has a bull they would like to grow out and see what he does. Even some of the longest horned bulls in the breed (some well into the 70's tip to tip) can be utilized like this. This is often an earn your way up process. If you take really good care of the bull and return him in better condition then what he started out as, you will have your pick the next time around. You will never have to worry about buying or selling a bull again and often times have some of the best genetics in the market. Pasture breeding takes some legwork. Many of the biggest breeders don't like this option because they are trying to take care of their own cows and don't much care to take care of yours. However, if you spread them out two here and two there you can easily find that you don't have to worry about taking care of your cows for several months. This will leave you time to do those ranch projects, raising last years calves, halter breaking, going on ranch tours, or what ever else you would do with the free time. Once you get them back it will be like getting a whole new herd of cows again since you haven't seen them in a few months. This will really drive your excitement up. This option can be a little more expensive, but you don't have to buy an expensive bull, so the savings are huge.

Let's get to bull shopping. Two options here, buy 100% of a bull or partnership. This is just a suggestion, but a rough gauge of how to work this option is you need one bull per 15-20 breeding cows. If you have less then this, a whole bull should not be the way to go. You aren't doing the bull any favors nor yourself. A bull can easily eat 4-8 bales of hay each winter, likewise he takes 4-10 acres of grass to maintain in the Spring and Summer, if you supplement with cubes or other feed he can pack away around nearly a full ton of feed. Depending on the year this can add up to thousands of dollars. That's all well and good if he is a pet, but not if you want these animals to pay for themselves. Buying a bull is exciting, and breeders will bend over backwards to sell you one. The top of the industry is looking for big bodies, thick hips, clean underline, straight top line, flashy color, and the market is really all about 70" tip to tip. If your budget is modest a upper 60" bull can be had for the cost of less than most of your cows. Of course total horn is always good, but a traffic stopper is what you need. The less horn you have the more you have to have in all the other areas. In some cases you can trade cows for a 70" bull, breeders at every level are always moving up. Look around your neighborhood, find breeders that are close to you. Look at their herd. Find what you both like in a bull and offer to partnership on a bull that is outside the bloodlines of what you both have. If your herd is under 10 head, you may want to find two or three partners. It is proven that big groups of breeders in areas that share bulls can move up faster and breed better than those that try to keep everything to themselves. A group on the Southeast coast averages one bull for every one or two cows. They have small herds and breed to the best genetics and have consistently taken animals to sales that have become "cash cows" (cows selling for over $10,000). When is the last time you sold a cow for $10,000? Most of these breeders have only modest investments into the cows they started with, and because they partnership they have only modest investments into bulls that may have exceeded the entire value of their herd. While partnerships can be challenging at times, it is the best way to promote, use, and sell progeny from any given bull if your ranch budget is small. A well-known bull wasn't born into greatness, he was made. Every great bull took lots of time, money, and resources. Only the select few super bulls have made a name for themselves with out this and most of them had to die before they got there. It takes a whopping budget of $10,000 - $30,000 to make a name for a bull. There are bulls that you think are great bulls that never did a thing, but due to great marketing are considered to be one of the best. If you are not one of these lucky breeders able to create instant fame for a bull, then piggy back on the money they spend. Buy a bull out of one of these bulls, just make sure you have done the research to use a bull that fits everything you are looking for.

What about those bulls that you already have? This is perhaps the hardest one to answer. The options are few, but I'll try to show you a few avenues that you may not have thought of. First is getting to know your neighbors. You see a guy with anything in his pasture other than Longhorns, he obviously doesn't know what he is doing, so it is up to you to teach him. Give him your bull! Free, no charge, gratis, on the house, just as a thank you! Advise him to use him on his heifers, the rest will come back to you later. Once a believer, always a believer! You take a hit the first time, but these ole' boys talk and if you make one guy happy, everyone will come to you. Helps if your bull is a pretty gentle bull, these ole' guys just don't know what to make of it when their new bull comes and licks them while their crazy cows try to eat them up. Second, trade him for steers or heifers to other breeders. Doesn't matter how many, but steers are easy to move one way or another and heifers can be an easy way to help market your new bull or sell bred to that bull. Third, try local marketing for a starter herd. Put together a small group of breeding heifers or cows with that bull priced cheap to move. Be really flexible and you can not only create a new customer, but also a new breeder that will enjoy this breed as much as you do.

While there are many options outside of these, new working ideas are always coming down the pipe. These are just a few that I've heard of lately that seem to work well. While they are not the easiest, it may be a better solution for a bull than ending up at the local sale barn or ending up in one pound packages.

Hope some of this will help you in the fast and furious bull market season!
Craig Perez
Arrowhead Cattle Company
This blog is a guest entry and in no way reflects the opinions or suggestions of Hired Hand Software.

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