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Published June 23, 2014, 09:33 AM

Competition forces some bulls out of pens

Most bulls can fill feedlot pens, but some are herd bulls and some aren’t. Every year, the competition in the bull pen gets tougher, so some bulls need to leave.

By: Kris Ringwall, Agweek

Most bulls can fill feedlot pens, but some are herd bulls and some aren’t.

Every year, the competition in the bull pen gets tougher, so some bulls need to leave.

At the Dickinson (N.D.) Research Extension Center, seven long yearling bulls needed to leave. They were neutered and weighed in at 1,179 pounds after a summer on grass. Last fall, they were sent to the feedlot and weighed 1,636 pounds after 88 days on feed. They gained 5.2 pounds per day and had a dry feed conversion of 5.3 pounds.

The point is there are opportunities for the excess bulls other than a long winter in the bull pen. Neutering and feeding those excess yearling bulls is a viable option. As cow numbers dip, so should bull numbers. The only purpose a bull has is to breed cows, so they will conceive calves. With fewer cows, fewer bulls are needed.

Most bull sales are over, but private treaty sales are plentiful.

Sometimes the market might justify the extra year. But quick comparisons of the average 2-year-old bull value versus the yearling are seldom exciting.

That being said, the Dickinson Research Extension Center has a good inventory of bulls. Unlike a private producer, as cows are assigned to research pastures, the number of cows in each pasture is small.

At the center, once everything is allotted for the summer, the extra steers are put on grass. Any unused bulls are neutered and added to the inventory of steers on grass. In addition, yearling bulls can be neutered once they no longer are needed as breeding bulls. The rationale is that the center wants to minimize the number of bulls that are kept through the winter.

This past year, the center ended up with 27 steers on grass. Seventeen of those came from the bull pen. Following the summer on grass, all 27 head were shipped to the feedlot in late October.

As a pen, the steers weighed 1,072 pounds and were valued at $1,501.

They were fed for an average of 102 days and gained an average of 4.3 pounds per day, with a dry feed conversion of 5.6 pounds. Their calculated shrink weight at harvest was 1,512 pounds and they were valued at $2,126. The top 25 percent of the lot came from the bull pen.

Markets will vary from year to year, but seedstock producers always need to anticipate bull demand for next year. Reviewing the sale results is critical to help next year’s planning.

The center ships cattle to feedlots for finishing and the reports that come back from the feedlots are divided into three parts. The reports are broken down to the top 25 percent, middle 50 percent and the bottom 25 percent of the cattle on feed.

In the bull business, seedstock producers should do the same. Those bulls that are in demand should top the sale and be on the upper 25 percent list. Again, some bulls are herd bulls and, more than likely, the herd bulls are at the top of the sale.

Most cattle producers need good bulls to conceive calves that fit today’s market. These would be the middle 50 percent of the bulls offered for sale. What about the bottom 25 percent of the bulls that are offered? Are they selling and, if so, should they be sold as bulls?

In today’s data-driven world, bulls can be screened quickly and easily. As producers slowly adopt the data, the ability to screen multiple bulls from several seedstock producers evolves, along with offsite bidding and purchasing.

Those bulls that do not fit as herd sires or are not good bulls to fill commercial feedlots should be settling to the bottom of sale value.

Perhaps, after reviewing this year’s sale results, a critical eye can sort and neuter more bulls for grass and feedlot options. Fewer bulls, more demand.

Editor’s note: Ringwall is a North Dakota State University Extension Service livestock specialist and the Dickinson Research Extension Center director.