Better bull selection comes down to herd, market



THERE is no perfect bull, just the right bull, according to cattle breeder and University of Adelaide agricultural lecturer Darren Koopman, Tungkillo.

“There are so many decisions to make, so you need to ask ‘what’s the best bull for your job?’,” he said.

Mr Koopman said it was important to have a clear picture of the end product and market – are the cattle to be sold as vealers, heavier supermarket cattle, steers bound for the European Union, or kept as replacement stock?

“There is no such thing as a perfect bull,” he said.

“It is a bit of a compromise that comes back to what you are trying to achieve.

“It may not be the fanciest looking, but is it the best bull for your job?”

As the state’s bull buying season amps up, the Barossa Improved Grazing Group, in partnership with Meat & Livestock Australia’s More Beef from Pastures program, hosted a bull selection workshop to arm members with information.

The day began with a talk on assessing structural soundness with university lecturer and commercial and stud cattle breeder Darren Koopman at Tungkillo, before travelling to Wellington Lodge at Tailem Bend.

There the group heard from University of Adelaide School of Animal and Veterinary Science senior lecturer Kiro Petrovski on animal health and ways to avoid introducing sexually transmitted diseases from bull purchases.

The group also heard from the university’s professor of animal breeding and genetics, Wayne Pitchford, who spoke about breeding objectives and using Breedplan to help with bull selection.

Mr Koopman said bull selection could be complicated, with many factors to consider.

“You can get tangled in pedigrees and bloodlines, then you have measurements and Breedplan figures and indices,” he said.

“Then you’ve got to buffer all that with price.”

Mr Koopman said it could be a balancing act to find the right emphasis between these issues.

He said all these different information sources could sometimes mean fundamentals, such as jaw alignment, were overlooked so it was important to take in the bull overall.

On top of this, Mr Koopman said there were also some elements in bull selection that came down to personal preference and weren’t measurable, such as presence.

Mr Koopman said the other key first step was knowing the herd the bull was destined for.

“What would you like to change or improve in your own herd?” he asked.

A bull can then be selected for “corrective mating” to overcome any faults or weaknesses in the herd.

Mr Koopman said, among all the other information available, structural soundness was a good starting indicator to take into consideration.

“You’re looking for points that, if they’re not right, will become expensive down the track with bull breakdown,” he said.

“Feet and legs are a big focus.”

Mr Koopman said there were many ways to view this with a simple one being the Beef Class Structural Assessment system.

The system is universal across all beef cattle breeds and provides a range, usually between one to nine, with five generally ideal, four to six considered acceptable, and those at the extreme ends most likely to be culled.

“People can see things slightly differently but you just need to remember to be repeatable in identifying traits,” he said.

Mr Koopman said the structural score was a quick system that provided a starting point.

It can also be balanced with breeding values and other selection criteria.

“It really is an exercise in balance – what do you like, what are you sensitive to?” he said.

“Generally things you are sensitive to are things you’ve had a problem with before in your herd.”