By: Leslie Bergh, ARC, Irene, RSA. Translated and adapted by Kitty Mulders, Kalomo, Zambia.
Bull selection does not have to be a gamble- there are tools available to make an informed decision when you purchase your bulls.
The farmer should start the selection process by establishing clear breeding targets and a thorough breeding strategy. This applies not only to the stud breeder but also to the farmer who produces beef for the market. Without these breeding targets and a proper strategy, it is almost impossible to do any sensible selection within your herd. There is so much information available to the potential bull buyer that it can be difficult to focus on what is important: namely the selection of a functional breeding bull.
Why is the selection of a good bull so important?
The choice of the wrong bull could prove to be a very expensive mistake. Female progeny of the bull will remain in your herd for up to 10 years, even after you have stopped using the bull.
Only 3 to 4% of the breeding stock is represented by bulls but they provide 50% of the genetic material of each calf.
Up to 90% of the genetic improvement within a herd or breed takes place as a result of bull selection.
The function of a breeding bull is expected to perform 3 basic functions, namely:
To produce progeny.
To produce progeny that is adapted to the environment and the production methods
To produce progeny that is genetically superior to the existing herd
The above-mentioned basic functions are briefly discussed in this article and the most important points and selection criteria will be emphasized.
To Produce Progeny! This is by far the most important function of a bull that is used for breeding and the farmer should pay attention to the following traits:
No genetic defects
Sufficient size (Scrotum circumference)
Normal shape (no swelling or hardening of the tissue)
No abnormal fat deposits
Calving record of the mother:
Age at first calving
Average inter-calving period
Secondary male characteristics:
Masculinity, clear eyebrow ridge, good muscle development
Darkening (depending on the hair colour) and coarsening of hair on head, neck and forequarter
It is of paramount importance that you have your bull’s semen tested for fertility once a year; furthermore, you should only buy bulls that have been semen tested.
Highly correlated to conception rate
Not related to scrotum circumference
Look for an alert animal, if cows are close by, he should be paying attention!!
Walking Ability: Legs and Joints:
Not excessively straight or sickle hocked
No excessive growth
No turning inside or outside
Enough depth, also important for longevity
Mating Ability: Legs and joints:
Straight hocks are especially undesirable as this restricts flexibility during mating
Pay attention to hooves that are damaged or misshapen and might cause pain during mating
Not too long or fleshy, a long sheath could be a problem in our veld conditions where seeds can cause infections
Opening should not be too large
No prolapse of the foreskin
To Produce Progeny that is Adapted to The Environment and the Production Methods. The correct choice of breed type (Bos Sanga, Bos Indicus, Bos Taurus or a combination of the above) and frame type (size) is critical to achieve this. There is, however, great variety within the breeds and you need to use this in your selection process. The following traits should be given attention:
Environment: Climate: (tolerant to heat and humidity)
Sufficient skin surface (dewlap)
Fully pigmented skin-especially important in the sensitive areas such as around the eyes
Ticks and other external parasites:
A skin that can move to get rid of external parasites
Smooth coat – short hair
Sufficient skin thickness
Quality and quantity of grazing:
If the grazing is sparse and/or of low quality a small to medium framed bull is better suited
Where grazing is abundant and of good quality you could consider a larger framed bull, however a small to medium frame will still be suitable
This is an extremely important aspect, as the daughters of the bull will have to produce and reproduce under these circumstances.
Finishing off the veld: Large framed-late maturing bulls are unsuitable. Small to medium framed bulls are the way to go.
Finishing in feedlot: Medium to large-framed bulls are suitable.
To Produce Progeny that is Genetically Superior to the Existing Herd The traits that play a role in producing calves that will be better than the average of Sire and Dam (genetically superior offspring) are often highly hereditary and measurable. Exactly because of this, rapid improvements can be made, and this should be used in your selection of a bull for breeding. In South Africa, the trend is towards the use of Breeding Values, wherever they are available (rather than indices) as they give a more reliable indication of an animal’s genetic merit. However, in Zambia, the use of Breeding Values is still a very new tool. The following traits should be given attention: Genetic Defects That Should Be Avoided:
Absence of epididymis
Ease Of Calving: BIRTHMASS
The most important factor relating to difficult births is birth mass
Consider the average birth mass of the breed
Proportional birth mass (calf weight/dam weight * 100)
Weaning Weight: Look at the Breeding values (where available) concerning weaning weight:
Wean direct (growth before weaning)
Wean maternal (Maternal ability)
Weaning indices (where breeding values are not available):
Average of Dam’s progeny
Feed Conversion Efficiency:
Feed conversion breeding value or index
Kleiber breeding value (this relates to the Metabolic Growth Efficiency) or index (ADG/weight 0.75)
Average Daily Gain breeding value or index
12 months breeding value or index
18 months breeding value or index
Dressing out percentage
Muscle percentage and index
Total Kg’s of muscle in the carcass
Meat Quality: In Zambia so far, little emphasis is put on the quality of beef produced, apart from the differentiation between Prime, Choice and Standard beef by the butchers. For obvious reasons it is impossible to measure meat tenderness in young bulls. Progeny testing could be done to reveal data concerning meat tenderness, but this is a long and expensive process. Therefore, it is not something we can select for at the moment.
Ease Of Handling: The following are influenced by temperament:
Time and effort spent handling the animals
Maintenance of fencing and other structures
Occurrence of injury to man and animals
Performance in feedlot
Conclusion:It is advisable to buy your bulls from a trustworthy stud breeder and to use all the significant information that is available in your selection of a bull. Do give preference to breeds that have been adapted to the Zambian climate and veld. Always do a visual inspection of the animal and choose the best bull you can afford.