MRW Memo, January '22: Calving Ease Bulls
Welcome to the inaugural edition of the MRW Memo! There’s lots going on this month, with the Cattlemen’s Congress, National Western and then bull sale season. It’s also the final countdown for Erika and I as we wait for our little man to join the family any time now!
This month, calving ease is very heavy on my mind. While most baby talk has been focused on the human variety lately, our first calf heifers are just a couple weeks from starting calving season. If we did our job well as breeders, we used bulls on our heifers to provide us less stress and more sleep at night (well, more sleep thanks to the cows!). Here are some of the factors that I consider when selecting bulls to use on heifers, either via AI or natural service.
1. Feet and leg quality must always be paramount when bringing in a bull. Photos, videos, and input from other breeders are valuable for AI sires I don’t see in person. When buying a bull to walk the pastures, he better have good running gears under him to get his job done.
2. The piece of information I study the most with calving ease sires is the Calving Ease Direct (CED) EPD. Bulls in the top 25% of their breed for CED are what I aim for when breeding heifers. Birth Weight (BW) EPD is also considered, but since CED incorporates BW into its calculation, I lean towards CED. Actual birth weight is looked at as well, but only to compare if bulls are in the same sale. Environment plays such a role in birth weight that I can’t compare across herds. An 85 lb. calf on my family’s Tennessee farm is a bigger calf but is closer to average here in Iowa.
3. Plenty of stockmen will tell you that the look of a bull tells you whether he should be bred to heifers than any number. I believe there’s truth to that! I like for the bulls we breed heifers with to have that smooth shoulder and slender front end. Broad shoulders and short, compact body types give me concern about calf shape come calving season. Not all equal weight calves are created equal if the calves come in different shapes.
4. Your heifer group likely has a “hole” that a new sire could help you make improvements in. Studying your females EPDs and phenotypes can help you discover that shortcoming. Identifying a bull that can fix that weak link while still providing the calving ease you need can help your breeding program make more than just a “throwaway” calf out of those first calvers. My Hereford genetics weakest link is carcass quality, so I am on the hunt for a bull that can cover heifers, infuse a bit more carcass into them without taking any other important trait out of bounds.
Best of luck with your calving season! May all your heifers calve unassisted before bed time.