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(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 cow;
●  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 bull’s ear.

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 great extent.

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.

  1. 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 farmer’s investment.

  2. 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 catalogues.

  3. 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 sale catalogues.

  4. 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 sale catalogues.

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 catalogues:

Birth or BW : Birth weight (coupled to calving ease ) = aim for low.
CED : Ease of which the bull’s calves are born – the higher this figure the better.
CEM : 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 weaner production.
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 upwards. Firstly 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 Rand.

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 calving problems.

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 enquiry service www. simmentaler.org.

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 qualities.

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 measurement.

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 breeding season.

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 records.

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 bulls”.

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.

Purchase price

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 bull.

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 for.

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.

© COPYRIGHT IS RESERVED AND THE CONTENT OR ANY PART THEREOF MAY ONLY BE REPRODUCED WITH THE WRITTEN CONSENT OF THE SIMMENTALER SOCIETY.

 
  
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