A herd sire is a bull that we use in our herd for breeding our cows. Herd sires play a large role in the genetics of our cattle program and therefore selecting a bull is a very important decision in our operation.
A bull contributes 50% of the genetic makeup of each generation of offspring and the cows together contribute the other half. If you think of it this way, we retain heifers from our own herd for replacement cows, so 75% of the genetic makeup of their offspring will be from the herd sires that we have used over two generations.
This means that our herd sires are the most influential animal in our herd. Following is an overview of how we select and manage the herd sires on our ranch.
Choosing a Herd Sire
We look at a combination of genetics, conformation, scrotal circumference, disposition, and performance standards when choosing a bull for our herd. Conformation of a bull includes what the bull looks like, his feet, and his walking ability. When we want to make changes in our herd, we will select a herd sire with traits that we are looking for or that we want to have more of in our herd. We also want to consider our type of cattle, our environment and operational goals.
Our breed association, the Canadian Hereford Assocation, helps us make sire section decisions with a program called THE (Total Herd Evaluation). The performance information available includes everything from actual weights to nationally evaluated EPDs (Expected Progeny Differences). EPDs estimate the genetic potential of the animal based on complicated mathematical equations and they attempt to compensate for environment and management techniques to isolate genetic potential.
Therefore, by selecting herd sires based on the above performance information while considering environment and operational goals and good management, over time this will help produce better cattle.
Some of our herd sires are purchased from other breeders and some are home raised bulls. Some of these home raised bulls are from our cows who we used artificial insemination (AI) on.
Every spring, we look at the conformation and condition of our herd sires that we own and then decide which bulls are going to go with which cows and on which pastures.
We also look at a combination of genetics, age, and conformation of our cows to decide which cows will be bred to which bulls each year. Bulls will higher birth weights and bulls which are larger in size will be bred to mature cows. We often use yearling bulls on heifers unless we have a mature bull that we know produces small birth weight calves. Since heifers are having their first calf, smaller birth weights are important to reduce calving difficulty.
We make a breeding list from this to refer to when sorting out the groups of cattle to pastures. All of this information is then recorded into CattleMax, our online herd management program.
Herd Sire Turn Out
Our bulls are turned around the end of May with our cows on our summer pastures. Bulls will often breed between 20-40 cows per year. Younger bulls will often breed 20-25 cows and mature herd sires in good condition can breed 25 or 40. We typically plan for 1 bull per 25 -30 cows on average, except with yearling bulls. We also like to have at least 1 extra bull that is at home in case a bull gets hurt during breeding season.
Bringing the Herd Sires Home
We usually like to leave our bulls with the cows for 2 estrous cycles, which is a total 42 days. Then, ideally, we like to remove the bulls from the pastures and bring them back home.
This helps to keep our calving season within a reasonable timeframe and it also helps to eliminate issues with bulls getting “bored” and wandering to neighbours. It also helps to keep the bulls in good condition, especially young bulls who are growing. Once we bring the bulls home, we keep them in a large pasture away from other groups of cattle so that they are establish their hierarchy amongst themselves and settle in for fall.
Fall and Winter Feeding
It is extremely important to manage the bulls nutrition during the entire year so that they are properly conditioned for breeding season. If a bull is too thin, it can influence semen quality and their stamina. If a bull is too fat, it can also affect their stamina and their soundness.
In the fall, all of our bulls are out grazing and then we usually move them into their winter pastures once the snow is too deep for them to graze.
Our yearling bulls are then separated from the mature bulls so that we can ensure they get a higher protein diet as they are still growing. We feed them grain over the winter months and they have full access to hay, so they are not pushed out by the mature bulls.
We feed the mature bulls are fed hay through the winter and we carefully monitor their condition to ensure that they are maintaining condition appropriately.
Most Influential Animal in the Herd
It is extremely important to carefully select and manage herd sires as they are the basis of our cattle herd and are the most influential animal in the herd. By doing so, our herd genetics continue to improve every year.