Rayner Reckons

Jun 23

What do I think of this bull?

Posted on Sunday, June 23, 2019

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is the simple “what do you think of this bull?”  For such a simple question, there isn’t a simple answer I can give.  Occasionally I am tempted to say “not much” but if I am stalling for time I might fall back on the standard “I haven’t really thought about him yet”.  Either way, the question is one that is a challenge and requires a little time to consider a proper response.

 

My greatest challenge with this question is the context it’s being asked within.  Selecting bulls is a key task for any breeding program.  The decision made to use a bull is the start of a process that will effect up to three generations of cattle and play put over 15 years.  



In that context,  decisions around bulls need a lot more time than a quick “what do you think of him”.

 

Ultimately I try to get the person asking me that question to share more about what they are trying to achieve at home.  In simple terms, what are they breeding for?  What are the traits that matter to them.  Are there issues in the cow herd they want to focus on.  Is there an issue with suitability to their markets or the environment.  


These are all the basics of a breeding objective.  If you know that, you can start to determine if the bull is suited to their program or not.

 

The other challenge is when a producer comes up to ask what do I think of a few bulls, brandishing the raw data that is provided on the bulls.  I have to be honest and respond that I need a lot more information before I give a comparison.  Quite simply I don’t find raw data all that helpful, except to provide me with a weight of each animal on the day.  Other than that, to me it doesn’t offer anything terribly helpful in determining how a bull will fit into a programs objectives.

 

It’s very easy to compare bulls for visual traits.  In fact I think that’s essential.  So I am very happy to assess the muscle patterns, structure and gait of a bull as he walks around the pen.  I can look at his maturity pattern and make some comparisons with his sale mates. 


And I can see what his individual temperament is like as I follow him around assessing his physical attributes. But, what I cant see and compare, is the genetic potential those bulls offer without accurate data.

 

Raw data that is often provided at bull sales shouldn’t be seen as an insight into the potential of the bull.  With these supplementary sheets it's important to remember that these sheets record what the bull as an individual has done to that point in time. 


So when you look at that data, or when I have it shown to me, its important to acknowledge the role that nutrition and the pedigrees have in determining a particular bulls phenotype, these are not the only two areas to consider.

 

There are many additional influences, ranging from the bulls age; the age of its dam; was the bull a single calf or a twin or if it was produced as a result of ET? 


These are all non genetic influences on the bull that impact over and above nutrition and genetics.  And when you are standing in a paddock looking at those bulls, it’s very difficult to know what these additional influences are or how to account for them in a selection decision.

 

My greatest concern is that often producers end up selecting on differences that are a result of these multiple factors, rather than for the genetic differences in animals.  Selection on raw data is further complicated by the heritability of individual traits. Highly heritable traits such as coat color can be an easy selection decision, as these traits can be easily passed on to progeny.

 

However, as a trait becomes less heritable it is harder to see these differences reflected on the basis of raw data alone.  Producers attempting to manipulate traits to meet breeding objectives in areas such as female fertility have a harder job to select for improvement when they are reliant on raw data and visual observation.  Its not an impossible task, however it is a much more difficult, and drawn out process over several generations.

 

As if this isn’t difficult enough, there’s something else to remember! That’s the relationship between the trait that has been recorded and the traits that are the focus of particular breeding decisions?  

 

Not all traits follow linear progressions.  A good example is scanned data for EMA.  The size of EMA at a particular point in time may not be reflective of increased muscularity, but rather a result of growth rate to that point in time.  A larger EMA may be more reflective of the growth and weight of the animal when it was scanned. 

 

It really concerns me when producers place all their emphasis on the raw data of animals as the basis for their selection decisions.  Without knowing the cumulative impact of the environment, feed, and other non-genetic factors, bulls are being selected more on reflection of the year’s circumstances, rather than on their genetic capability.  This often works in a counterproductive manner to selection pressure placed on the breeding group at home.

 

So if you are choosing bulls, you need to make this a project and allow yourself some time to make decisions based on research and preparation, rather than a comparison of animals on the day of the sale! There is tremendous value in spending time considering what you want as an objective for your herd, and looking at a range of bulls to help achieve that goal.

 

Breedplan figures and the search tools in Breedplan can help you find the bulls that could suit your program.  Then you can go and look at them and see if they physically have structure, the muscularity and temperament to suit your program. 

 

If you do that then when you ask me what do I think of these bulls, I’ll be able to have a focused and hopefully more helpful discussion with you!

Comments

Andrew White commented on 27-Jun-2019 07:51 AM
Fabulous article - 100% agree with you. A really good read.

Post a Comment

Captcha Image


Tags

Latest Tweets