(Compiled by the Breed Director of the Simmentaler/Simbra
Cattle Breeders’ Society of Southern Africa as a guide for
our valued bull buyers)
The bull’s contribution to a beef herd is more than merely
the servicing of cows.
His contribution is 25 to 35 times more than that of any
The effect on the current herd of the few bulls used in
the last three generations is 87%;
The bull can either improve or cause the calving crop to
deteriorate more within one year than what years of
selection of the cow herd can achieve.
From this it is clear that the purchase of a HERD BULL is of
paramount economic importance and should be carried out with
extreme caution. Factors which should be taken into account
in the selection of a bull are described herein. The points
are not listed in order of priority – they are all equally
important and essential.
A Simmentaler bull may be classified in 1 of 3 groups - the
choice is left to you, the buyer
Since the inception of the breed society, all bulls have
been subjected to inspection by breed experts prior to
registration on the basis of economically important breed
standards. Animals with defects or which do not conform to
the standards are rejected, do not receive a certificate and
their progeny will at no stage qualify for registration.
This inspection system is of great advantage to the bull
buyer since all Simmentalers can be identified as follows:
Class A bull: Registration certificate = the
bull and all his ancestors conform to the standards. Only 3
out of every 10 bull calves from stud parents are classified
in Class A.
Class B bull: Registration certificate
proof that ancestors have passed inspection and are
registered, however, the bull itself has not yet been
inspected – he could therefore still be rejected.
Class C bull: No
certificate (no paper) = the
bull does not conform to the standards and has been
rejected; one or both of his parents has/have been rejected;
grade parent(s); his Calfbook or registration status has for
some or other reason been cancelled in the Herdbook.
Therefore insist on the bull’s “ID-CARD” or certificate to
establish whether the bull classifies under Class A, B or C. The
number reflected on the certificate is tattooed in the
Sales talk such as “this is a pure bred bull but he does not
have a paper” may cost you dearly – all that is genuine
about this bull is that he has been bred from a cow and a
bull. You have decided on a Simmentaler bull with a view to
transmitting established breed qualities to your cow herd.
Many years of purposeful selection for purity ensures that
Class A bulls will transmit these breed characteristics to a
How to determine the value of a bull
We must pay much more attention on how much a bull is worth,
rather than how much he will cost.
Bull buying is the most important investment you will make
in your herd. You must evaluate a bull on the same basis
than investing money viz. return on an investment.
The more life calves he will produce the lower the
bull–cost-per-calf. In order to produce many calves we
must look at the following: (a) fertility of semen
quality; (b)serving ability or libido; (c)
structural correctness (feed, hocks, sheath, testicle
size and shape); (d) look well after your bull and
keep him in a good working condition. If the bull is
functionally sound and happy in his environment he will
produce many calves and therefore, a good return on the
Now that the cows are pregnant we want a bull that
produces life calves. Big, heavy and coarse bulls
normally breed big calves the main course of calving
problems. The bull’s EBV’s (estimated breeding value)*
for calving ease (must be high) and birth weight (must
be low) are the best predictors of the ease with which
his calves are born. *Published on Simmentaler
performance certificates and all official sale
The next important criteria is to determine how his
progeny will perform and not how much heavier or
prettier he is compared to the other bulls on sale.
Seeing that he has not bred progeny yet, the only way to
do this is to study his 200, 400 and 600 day EBV’s* .
EBV’s measures the genetics that is passed on to the
progeny and not how much food the bull got. *Published
on Simmentaler performance certificates and all official
The last aspect to consider in determining the real
value of a bull, is his long term value viz. how will
his daughters perform as replacement cows. Not even the
best cattle judge can see how much milk a bull’s
daughters will produce or how easy they will give birth
to their calves. That is why clever bull buyers
consider the milk, maternal calving ease and mature cow
weight EBV’s*. *Published
on Simmentaler performance certificates and all official
Aim for herd improvement
To continue genetic improvement in a cow herd, each new sire
should be superior to the last one.
The only way to do this is by looking at the EBV’s on the
performance pedigrees and catalogues because they allow you
to compare bulls over years, seasons and herds.
EBV’s using BLUP methodology have replaced the outmoded
indices many years ago and are used universally as the
foremost selection aid. The weight of an animal is
determined by environment (feed) and genes. Blup separates
environment from genetics and only the genetic transmissible
traits are estimated. Relationships between animals play a
key-role in EBV’s and pedigrees are therefore essential in
establishing EBV. The following EBV’s for economical
important characteristics are published already since 1999
on all Simmentaler certificates and official sale
Birth or BW
||: Birth weight (coupled to calving ease ) = aim
||: Ease of which the bull’s calves are born – the
higher this figure the better.
||: A prediction of how easy the bull’s daughters
will calf – the higher the better.
WW or 200
||: Weaning or 200 day weight – important for
WW or 400
|| : Yearling or 400 day weight.
FW or 600
||: Final or 600 day weight.
COW or MCW
||: Mature cow weight – should be around breed
average (24) and preferably lower than 600 day.
In the evaluation of EBV’s the accuracy (a % figure) must be
taken into account – the higher the accuracy, the more
accurate the EBV of the trait. EBV’s with a low accuracy
(below 75%) will most probably change as soon as new
information becomes available.
What should he look like?
Judging of a bull should always occur from the ground
look at the hooves (large, closed, deep and uniform),
pastern (elastic), hocks (broad, dry with correct angle),
bone structure (not coarse) and stride (comfortable). Should
a bull pass this test, look at his tools – is his scrotum
large enough and correctly formed – does he possess a
controllable sheath which is not too large. Finally examine
the upper part of the body – clearly definable and well
developed muscles (a well muscled forearm is always an
indication of overall muscularity), well-sprung ribs
(capacity), length of body and smooth haircoat. Avoid bulls
with prominent shoulders as well as bulls showing any signs
of coarseness. Lastly, colour has nothing to do with
production. Studies showed that yellow Simmentalers have
more eyelid pigmentation than the red ones.
However, you need not be an expert – merely insist on the
bull’s “ID-Card”. Class A bulls have already been inspected
by experts and conform to the standards. Class B bulls have
not yet been visually appraised and could possess defects
although their parents may be champions. Class C bulls do
not meet any requirements and must be avoided.
Attendance of a Simmentaler course is strongly recommended.
According to outsiders this is one of the best cattle
training courses in the industry. Application of the
knowledge gained there could save bull buyers thousands of
Elephants belong in the game park
Nature does not tolerate extremes.
Due to the large variation in environment and management
systems, a sound variation in size exists within the breed
to select from. However, it is best to keep to the medium
size framework. An average size Class A bull is ideal for
most commercial herds. The chances are very good that a
large and coarse bull will breed heavy calves resulting in
However, in birth weight and calving ease EBV’s bull buyers
have a powerfull calving ease predictors. These EBV’s are
published on the certificate, all official sale catalogues
and our animal
Select bulls with ….
… a low birth weight (abbreviated BW) and
… a high calving
ease (abbreviated CED).
Don’t always blame the bull for calving problems. Several
cow-related factors play a role as well. Overfed or thin
cows are likely to have more difficult calvings and cows
with flat rumps (no slope from hipbone to pinbone) give rise
to increased calving problems.
Everything revolves around fertility
The importance of fertility or reproduction is 5 times
higher than growth rate and 10 times higher than carcass
The main function of the bull is to serve females. The bull
must be in good working condition – fit instead of fat. He
must possess true sex characteristics, with a characteristic
head, in other words, a bull must look like a bull. A
fertility certificate is of help and assures you that there
was nothing wrong with the bull at the time of testing.
The bull’s walking ability and sheath should be above
suspicion. Scrotum circumference is for several reasons
important and all Class A bulls conform to the minimum
An annual sheath wash examination is essential in order to
detect venereal diseases such as Vibriosis and
Trichomoniasis, which could have an enormous negative effect
on calving percentage. Fertility examinations by a
veterinarian must be carried out on all bulls prior to each
Everything related to fertility is of prime importance. Look
at the dam’s calving record and avoid bulls from dams with
irregular calvings, not to mention dams without calving
In order to simplify selection of all these dam-related
qualities for the Simmentaler bull buyer, a star-cow or bull
mother register has been instituted. Cows which comply to
high reproduction, milk production, and appearance standards
are registered as one star (*), two star (**) or three star
(***) and are identified on the certificate or official
catalogues – again, insist on the certificate.
Without milk, no beef
Between 60-70% of the variation in the weaning weight of a
group of calves can be attributed to the milk production of
their dams. How do you select a bull for milk production?
It is easy, his milk EBV on the certificate or catalogue is
a good prediction of his daughter’s milk production.
When, at what age and in what condition
The effect of adaptation (essential for sperm production) to
a new environment lasts approximately 2 months and bulls
should therefore be purchased a few months prior to the
start of the breeding season. Early purchase and good
follow-up treatment is imperative. In the majority of cases
this also ensures “an early choice from a larger group of
Depending on weight, a bull should not be used before the
age of two years. Overworking decreases interest in cows or
libido and a low calf harvest. Therefore, don’t make the
mistake of using a bull at a young age simply because he is
a few Rands cheaper. You could loose thousands in cows that
are not pregnant.
Over-feeding results in low or no fertility, difficult
adaptation and bulls are not keen to do their job. A fat
bull looks good (fat hides faults), but is not necessarily a
good bull. Over-fat bulls have a deep or full flank (the
flank of an animal cannot be muscular), a prominent brisket
(full of fat) and fat around the tail-end and scrotum.
Unfortunately it frequently happens that the commercial bull
buyer, who regularly criticises the stud breeder about
over-fat bulls, gives preference to over-fat bulls,
especially at sales.
Number of bulls required
Too many cows per bull has a detrimental effect on calving
percentage and therefore income. The number of breeding
animals per bull will depend on several factors such as age
of bull, feeding and duration of mating season. A guideline
for a three-month breeding season using 3 year old bulls is
25 cows per bull depending on the size of the camp. Young
two-year old bulls can only be used for ±15 cows.
With a ratio of 1 bull to 25 cows, a herd of 200 breeding
animals will require 8 bulls and since the same bulls should
not be kept in a herd for more than 3 to 4 years (inbreeding
sire/daughter), 2 to 3 bulls will have to be replaced
annually. While on inbreeding – closely related animals
(more than 6%) should not be mated – it is normally
detrimental to all production traits.
Where to buy
Give preference to breeders in the vicinity where the bull
must serve. These bulls are more adaptable to local
conditions. Details of breeders of Class A bulls in all
regions of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia are available
from our web page or the office.
There are annually a number of sales where bulls are
subjected to strict screening by qualified inspectors.
When purchasing a bull one should think in terms of his
progeny. Remember the effect of using a poor bull will be
evident for many years in your cow herd. Although the bull
only constitutes approximately 3% of the cow herd, he is
responsible for 50% of the genetic composition of the
calves. The bull that you purchase will remain in your herd
for 3-4 years and his daughters will have an effect on your
profit/loss account for almost a decade.
A realistic price guideline which accordingly to experts
applies to good and poor economic conditions, is that the
bull’s price should be equivalent to the price of 4 to 5 fat
slaughter cows. The old adage “Penny wise pound foolish”
should be borne in mind at the purchase of a bull. An
inferior bull is the most expensive product that a cattle
farmer can buy. Superior Class A bulls normally breed
superior progeny and therefore provide a higher income. It
is very difficult and takes years to get rid of the poor
qualities in your cow herd bred by an in-expensive Class C
Care of the new bull
Consult your vet regarding the treatment and testing of your
new bull. In view of the fact that adaptation to a new
environment and feeding has a major effect on a bull’s semen
production and libido, your investment necessitates proper
feeding, care and management. Especially young bulls which
are still growing and shedding teeth should be well-cared
To become properly adapted to an area, bulls should be
purchased at least one to two months before commencement of
the breeding season. The changeover from a high concentrate
ration (prior to selling) to a high roughage diet
(subsequent to purchase) must occur gradually. Depending on
the grazing conditions, a working bull should be fed a daily
ration of good hay or maize silage and 0,5 kg concentrate
per 100 kg live weight. Also keep an eye on the bull for
disease in the first few months.
The feeding and management of the most important investment
of the beef farmer has a direct effect on the number of cows
which will be successfully covered, and therefore, the
harvest – look after him well.
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