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Bull Buying Season - Don`t be fooled!
For ranchers and producers, it`s the time of year when most of us are looking for bulls. Unless you were smart, and already bought them this past fall. Average sale prices so far this spring have almost doubled last year`s highs for many seedstock producers. With bulls selling in the $5-10K range, make sure you are getting your money`s worth. Just because someone else is willing to bid you up that high, doesn`t mean a bull is worth that much. From personal experience, the auction ring environment has left me with many regrets. I think for a lot of people, it is addicting, similar to gambling. I know I`ve had my heart pumping a few time at sales in the past. I came to realize that I was being sold on the hype, and not necessarily on the quality of the bulls.
I don`t care what anyone says, if a seedstock producer`s bulls are gaining like fat steers, they are not going to last. Sure, they look fat and shiny, but you can cover a lot of defects with a little extra fat. And you will pay for that extra fat many times over in lower fertility and reduced longevity. Unless you plan on keeping a grain bucket in front of that fat bull all summer, don`t expect him to look like that in the fall. And his calves won`t look like that either as yearlings, unless you pack that grain bucket for them too. Man, that`s a lot of grain buckets to pack around, not to mention all the grain!
Standard industry practice is to put one bull with 25 head of cows, and you should get 4 years out of that bull. I say "should," because his grain foundered feet might not make it that long. Simple math says that a $10K bull over 4 years will cost you $100 per calf. Now, what if you could get 40 calves per year, and 6 years of use out of a forage fed bull for the same price? That comes out to about $42 per calf. And that is a conservative estimate! We have put our herdbull, 116Y, with over 50 cows for the last 3 years. And we expect to do that for another 5 years. For that same $10,000 bull, the cost would be $25 per calf. So, you get 4X your money`s worth for the forage fed bull, or you can afford to pay 4X as much. Plus, I can guarantee that you won`t have the "after-auction regrets."
Most bull buyers already know all this. So why would anyone want to pay too much for a bull that is almost guaranteed to fall apart? Good question. I think the answer has more to do with social interaction and psychology, than with logic. These big seedstock producers are good at turning a sale into the "social event of the year!" Even if people go just to see their neighbors and friends, they often end up making a purchase that they later regret. I`m not telling anyone not to be social, but if you`re an alcoholic, shouldn`t you avoid the bar? My favorite is the seedstock producers that say they, "are now focused on moderate frames, longevity, and low-maintenance," but continue using the same AI sires. What has changed? There are 2 parts to the puzzle; you need the right genetics and proper development. Neither works well by itself. If seedstock producer X`s bull didn`t last 3 years in the past, what makes you think his bulls are any different this year? Look for a seedstock producer that runs his cattle harder than you do, or at least as hard.
In closing thoughts, my purpose is not to disparage other producers, but to show that there is another way. Ranching can be profitable and fun, and it should be. How else are we going to continue this way of life? Or encourage the next generation to follow in our footsteps? However, "profitable" and "fun" are directly related. Make wise decisions this year. Look for new ways to be innovative and profitable, and don`t be afraid to think outside the box. History has many lessons for us. We need to make sure we are learning from our mistakes, and not chalking another one up to "bad luck."

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