We’ve all been there. The new catalog comes out with the latest and greatest bulls available for our next AI season. We spend hours in a trance, looking at the pictures and reading the new information. Our minds wander to the excitement of calves next season: What cows could we use the new bull on? Will our newest match-up be our best one yet?

An AI program offers cattle producers versatility. It also allows cattle producers to affordably utilize awesome genetics. This makes the process one that many producers turn to more every year.

Times have changed.

Fifteen years ago my father would have run me off the place if I mentioned implementing an AI program. He believed our family’s commercial herd was fine doing things the old-fashioned way. “Generations have made money in cow/calf only using a bull and Mother Nature,” he would say. Now he sits and helps me sort through what bulls can move us into the future. We work together to decide our goals for the upcoming breeding season.

I am thankful for the progress the cattle industry has made. Genetic opportunities are delivered in a straw. But I can’t help but wonder:

Have we lost the importance of genetics in the pasture?


The bulls we turn out with our cows should be the same genetic powerhouses that we expect in a straw.

Commercial cattlemen’s livelihoods depend on live calves. These calves need to gain well to reach their target sale weight. Seed stock producers seek the best genetics in their herds. They want to ensure they can provide bulls to meet the needs of the commercial cattle producer. Show cattle operations focus mostly on phenotype.

Of course, these demands could be met by the vast array of AI bulls on the market. But if you haven’t implemented an AI program, or if you have cows that didn’t “stick,” then what can you do?

I am not a fan of the term “cover bull.” This is a derogatory remark to describe the animal which should be one of the most important in our herds. The title “herd sire” does a much better job of describing what we should be expecting in the live bulls in our stock.

When selecting a bull, I call on the philosophical advice I got from my grandfather years ago:

“Figure how much your cows are worth and multiply that number by 3.”

The bull has the most genetic influence in your herd. The bull is 50% of the genetic makeup of each of his offspring. And since a bull covers 20-30 cows in a breeding season, that means he influences that many calves. Even if we are only using our bull to cover the cows we missed during AI, we want a high-quality bull. Those calves are just as valuable as the calves with AI breeding. Every time we look to buy a bull, we should be looking for the same genetic traits we look for in an AI catalog.

With all this information, how do we focus on the importance in our pastures? The method I find that works best is to set parameters of what we expect out of our bulls. We discuss how we want the herd to develop over the next four years (our average bull residency). What will we accept phenotypically and genetically? From there we only look at bulls within this set parameter. Whether it be at a sale or private treaty, we never even entertain the idea of lowering our standards. This often leads to having to look long and hard for the right animal within our budget. But the bottom line is the end result: Our calves from live cover are as valuable as our AI matches.

Power in our pasture matching the power in our tanks makes the entire calf group more profitable. Keep that in mind the next time you look for your next bull.

He should be the most important powerhouse in your pasture.

For more information about sire selection and artificial insemination, visit Dr. Don Coover and our friends at SEK Genetics.

What do you think? Do you value the power in your pasture as much as the power in your tank?

We would love to hear your thoughts. 


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