The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Green Acres


March 25, 2020

New Montguide Available for Bull Buyers

Kari Lewis and Wendy Becker (MSU Extension Agents from Glacier County and Fort Peck Reservation) have developed a resource for the bull buying season. The Montguide is available at the Chouteau County Extension office or online at

Bull selection is one of the most important management decisions a producer can make. Bulls are assessed phenotypically (appearance), genotypically (their genetic potential), and on performance (feed efficiency, carcass ultrasound, etc.) Bulls have a tremendous impact on the genetics of a cow herd, and according to Iowa State University Extension, the returns on investment between good and below-average sires for traits of interest can be 15% or greater. Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) provide an estimation of the genetic potential of an animal as a parent. A systematic approach to selecting a sire should be taken, including using and understanding: EPDs, performance data, health and Breeding Soundness Examination results, indexes, pedigree, additional footnote information supplied in a sale catalog, and visual evaluation of the animal.

It is also important to note that when reading EPDs, each breed has an average EPD for a given trait, not necessarily zero. Throughout the year, EPDs are frequently calculated and these averages are updated and published on breed association websites. For example, if a bull has a birthweight EPD of +1.9, and the breed average is +1.1, the bull’s calves are predicted to weigh +0.8 pounds greater than the breed average. By comparing a bull to the breed average EPDs, a producer then knows for which traits the bull is above or below average.

EPDs can be used to predict the future value of a bull’s progeny. To determine the difference in a potential bull’s value, it is best to consider current market prices and use the recommended bull to cow ratio for mature bulls of 1:25. Thus, one bull could predictably produce 25 calves per year and remain in a breeding system for four years.

In addition to considering a bull’s EPDs, performance measurements, and pedigree, a bull should be thoroughly evaluated for visual traits such as structural soundness, frame size, muscling, fleshing ability, rib shape, and disposition. Many seedstock breeders provide online videos and photos of each lot prior to the sale, which can provide an additional means of viewing bulls prior to sale day. Breeders commonly have additional data sheets available on sale day that may include information not listed in the catalog, such as scrotal measurements, carcass ultrasound data, current weights, etc. There are many factors to consider when purchasing a breeding bull. Utilizing EPDs along with other available selection tools and visual analysis is extremely valuable in this important economic decision-making process.

Montana State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Montana Counties Cooperating. MSU Extension is an equal opportunity/affirmative action provider of educational outreach.


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