Bull Selection in Ontario

What kind of bull do you want? There are as many colours, shapes, and sizes of bulls as you can think of on the market today. Perhaps the market is the best place to start. What kind of calf do you want to sell? And what kind of cow do you want to keep to obtain that calf?

Bull selection in Ontario used to be much simpler. Provincial bull evaluation centres allowed commercial producers to compare many different breeding programs at one location. All bulls received the same diet, and were evaluated for growth, muscle and fat deposition. A producer run organization, Beef Improvement Ontario (BIO), compiled all the collected data, and used genetic equations to create economic selection indices for two streams of commercial farms. But that was the 1980's and 90's. What can a producer do today to find a bull that works with his/her cow herd?

Defining the type of bull desired remains the prerogative of the purchaser, and his or her needs. But there are three defining criteria for any bull. Can he breed cows, or in other words is he sound reproductively? Can he walk and mount cows? Does he have the genetic makeup to fit the farmer's needs?

Most farmers spend a lot of time discussing the last point. Breed associations advertise the merits of their breeds. If you want to start an animated discussion, at your next coffee shop hangout, just toss off a comment on which breed you think is the best, and watch the fireworks commence.

Which breed is best? The old adage, "there is more difference within breeds than between breeds" may be true, but each breed does have its true type and list of predominant traits. The Meat Animal Research Centre in the United States provides a list of rankings of breeds for traits. Using general guidelines, producers can narrow down their breed preference based on what they are marketing and what their needs are.

In order to help farmers with selection, Beef Improvement Ontario (BIO) would produce a smaller frame / maternal bull selection index and a faster growing carcass based index. Today, seedstock producers could use an index that BIO could tailor for their own selection pressure. They could put in selection parameters such as calving ease, growth rate, carcass traits, and build an index.

Another selection tool becoming more popular is genomics. By pulling root hair bulbs from the animal, usually from the tail, and sending them to a laboratory, a farmer can learn quickly about the DNA of an animal and the traits they are carrying. Some breeds have more knowledge of the genetic markers in a genome test. For example, one could find out feed efficiency, carcass traits, and docility in one test. These traits may be hard to measure on farm. As science expands its knowledge of genetic markers, the available information becomes that much more powerful. Seedstock producers are using this information to select the breeding stock they offer for sale to commercial farms.

Cross breeding remains a simple yet valuable tool for beef farmers. By crossing breeds, one can take advantage of hybrid vigour to have more vigorous calves, and more efficient cows.

Having a veterinarian perform a reproductive soundness evaluation on your bull prior to breeding can help stave off any potential problems of a bull not being physically able to breed your cows. Semen testing your bulls each year prior to breeding season can make sure the bull is still good for the coming year.

The old adage, a bull is half your herd, demonstrates the impact of taking time to select the right bull. The bull evaluation centres of the past have mostly been replaced by farms feeding their own bulls and collecting data themselves. There are many private and group bull sales across the province. Take the time to visit seedstock farms, review bull sale offerings and select the sire that will benefit your operation the best.

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca