The Bull is Half the Herd Unless a Poor One, Then He’s All the Herd: VALUE HIM AS SUCH
Updated: Nov 12, 2022
This article is reprinted with minor changes from the American Dexter Cattle Association Bulletin Vol 4., 2019 - Jeff M. Chambers
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Our breed is maturing. It is moving well beyond being the
Livestock Conservancy’s threatened or endangered breed list. As
the breed matures we as breeders and owners are and will be
going through some important and challenging times. How
we as stewards of the breed meet these challenges and navigate
this transition will be critical in determining the long-term success and continued growth of Dexters into the 21st century.
In my opinion, a leading and predictive indicator in assessing
how successfully we as a breed manageg this transition is
our approach to and the value we place upon the most
critical animal in every herd, the bull. How we select and use our
bulls is critical for our breed’s continued growth and prosperity.
That topic deserves its own time and due. However, for this post the
following step in that process is the focus: “Is the bull I am using
a good bull?” I think it is nicely addressed by Hinman, in Dual-Pur-
pose Cattle p. 43-45, 1953.
“The bull question might be answered by saying that a good
bull in any herd is one whose progeny more nearly approaches
the ideal of the breeder than did the females with which he was
mated. This presupposes that the breeder has an ideal; if he does
not, he may be on his way, but he is going nowhere.”
SMD Sophie Ferl
Having an ideal in mind and then selecting and using those
males that move your herd and will likely move others herd
toward that ideal is how we ultimately determine if any bull is a
good bull. Implicit in this notion is that we are never certain a
bull is a good bull until he’s been a bull.
Our approach as Dexter breeders toward initial selection and
the ongoing evaluation of bulls is of critical importance. There
is recognition in our breed that these decisions are critical in
breed improvement however the follow-on component to those
decisions, bull values, suggests they are not being implemented
successfully. The value we place upon our bulls is a key indicator
of our success as a breed. To this point in our growth, I would
suggest this indicator is not pointing in a positive direction.
When mature registered bulls, with proven results of excellence
in progeny and production that move herds toward an ideal are
offered for sale and in some cases sold for less than their value
as ground beef, we have a problem. When yearling and coming
two-year-old registered bulls are offered for sale and sold for less
than their value, as finished steers, we have a problem.
On the one hand, this situation points directly to the fact that
as a breed our selection of calves to remain intact as potential
bulls continue to be too wide. A breed growing in a healthy
direction does not have registered bulls being sold for less than
their beef value. Among commercial beef herds, an old rule of
thumb in determining how much to pay for a bull is generally 2
times the value of a fat steer or 4 to 5 times the value of a feeder
calf. Using this algorithm even in the worst-case scenario that of
a 2-year-old 1,000 lb. Dexter steer going to the sale barn and sold
at a slaughter price of $85 per 100; the equation would indicate
$1,600 should be an expected price for an unproven Dexter bull
and that for commercial production. However, given that the
primary Dexter terminal market for beef is through farm to fork
operations with a fat steer selling as hanging beef at $5 a pound
(300 lbs. x $5 = $1,500) the Dexter bull price should be in the
$3,000 range. And again this bull price is for a 2-year-old, unproven,
unregistered, production stock.
What then is the additional value that should be included for a
future herd sire in a registered herd from an established and prov-
en breeding program? Are these values being sought or received
in the market for the most critical animal in any herd?
An examination of the values placed on bulls offered
for sale generally and the values that bulls are being sold fort
suggests that neither side of the equation is valuing bulls beyond
their terminal market value and in more than a few cases below
that value. In general, our breed is undervaluing the genetics
represented in those animals selected to remain as registered
seedstock bulls. This is not a good situation for our breed.
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Clearly a part of the answer is the further development of
sustainable, terminal production markets for Dexter stock. Thereby
decreasing selection pressure to keep bull calves intact. But that
is not the entire solution. We must continue to improve by only
selecting and making available bulls that can improve succeeding
generations from the cows to which they are bred toward a
specified ideal. We must also value our genetics as offered
through our bulls above the value of their carcass. We must insist
upon that value which is worthy of a breeding and genetic selection
program that gives reasonable assurance of an expected degree of
quality, type, and production in progeny toward a specified ideal.
So how do we as a breed go about changing this situation?
Begin with Hinman’s admonition to have an ideal we are mov-
ing toward. Then we only select and offer the best bulls from the
best females and sires that move our herd AND can potentially
move others herds toward that ideal. Then, if a bull is worthy of being
a bull, value him as such. Offering our breeding and genetics at
bargain prices devalues our efforts and genetics. Ensure as both a
buyer and seller that we place the additional value that is due to
proven sires, that represent a higher probability of success in the
future improvement of your herd.
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And finally, as we seek new bulls worthy of being a bull; we
should identify breeders that select toward and have succeeded in
moving their herds toward an ideal that is close to our own and
that value their bulls as such. Bargain hunting for bulls is a sure
way to the breeder’s poor house. The “expense” of a bull is and
should always be an investment in the future of our cattle herds.