By Mark Z. Johnson February 7, 2024, DROVERS

This week I address some questions received in response to my two most recent Cow-calf Corner Articles.

What is considered a “Good Bull”?

The article outlined the following criteria to meet “Good Bull” status:

  • A bull that sells with a registration paper which includes pedigree information and a complete set of genetic values (including EPDs and Bio-economic indices) to be considered in the selection process.
  • A bull that has passed a Breeding Soundness Exam (BSE) and selling with a breeding soundness warranty (terms will vary).

In addition, it is important to identify the right bull for your operation. Bull selection is not a “one size fits all” proposition. Whether you are buying out of a live auction or private treaty it is critical to access your own unique operation in order to determine the attributes your next bull needs to add value to the calf crop he will sire. This needs to be done before you go bull shopping. There are approximately two dozen genetic values in most beef breeds available to consider, in reality only a few can be prioritized when identifying your next herd sire. Selection pressure and your bull buying budget are both precious commodities, don’t squander either on traits that are not economic priorities in your operation.  

Do You Intend to Keep Daughters to Develop as Herd Replacements?

At this point in the cattle cycle, many producers will be retaining heifers to grow their cowherd. If this pertains to you, the maternal EPDs of your next herd sire will have a long-term economic impact in your operation. The Heifer Pregnancy (HP) EPD is a selection tool to improve fertility in your cow herd. Higher values indicate higher pregnancy rates in replacement heifers during their first breeding season. The Calving Ease Maternal (CEM) EPD is a selection tool to increase the likelihood of unassisted births of the replacement heifers your next herd bull will sire. Milk EPDs indicate the milk level in the form of pounds of calf cows will wean based on the nutrition provided. Higher Milk EPDs not only result in daughters weaning heavier calves but also in higher nutritional requirements in the cow herd so there is an optimum value depending on your production environment. Mature Weight (MW) EPDs indicate the mature size of a bull’s daughters. Optimums in mature cow weight also depend on your production environment. Dr. Paul Beck’s article in this newsletter on January 29th, 2024 is an excellent summary of the impact of mature cow size. The Sire Search feature at indicates considerable variation in MW EPDs among sires combining better than average genetic values for Calving Ease Direct, Weaning Weight, Yearling Weight, HP, CEM Milk and Marbling.

Will You be Using Your Next Bull on Cows or Virgin Heifers?

No one wants to pull calves. That being said, there is an extremely low incidence of dystocia in mature cows. Selection for calving ease bulls in the form of higher Calving Ease Direct (CED) and low Birth Weight (BW) EPDs is a priority when bulls will be used on heifers.

What Else Should Be Considered?

  • Marketing endpoint of your calf crop should influence selection priorities when bulls are used as terminal sires.
  • Your existing cowherd. Breed composition, disposition and body type, mature size, percent calf crop weaned and percent of mature weight weaned all should impact what you prioritize in bull selection.


Every operation should establish a budget for herd sire purchases. The return on this genetic investment is based on identifying the right bull (or bulls) that offer the best fit for your operation. Over time, 80 – 90% of genetic improvement is the result of sire selection. Herd bulls will either increase or restrict the profit potential of your operation.