cattle
Selecting bulls for your herd can be challenging. (Photo: Austin Snedden)

By Austin Snedden, Ranching Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Austin Snedden
Austin Snedden

A lot of parallels can be made between a professional sports team drafting new players and a cattle operation picking bulls for their cowherd. For the sports team and the cattle operation, their selection will impact them for years to come. We must try to avoid the pitfalls laid before us by hype, lack of information, or personal biases. I would argue that the job of selecting bulls is more challenging than that of a professional football scout or general manager. We don’t have hours of game tape, we don’t have a whole team evaluating the field, and we can’t conduct one-on-one interviews with bulls to learn about their character and goals. (I have tried.) Even with all the tools that professional sports scouts have at their discretion, they still get it wrong on a regular basis.

If budget wasn’t an issue in selecting your bull team, you could just pick the most hyped bulls from the most hyped programs, but keep in mind many of those have been busts on the football field as well as in the cow field. For those of us with a limited budget, we have to find the un-drafted Tony Romo’s and Kurt Warner’s or the 199th pick Tom Brady’s of the bull world. For picking professional football players, the things to analyze are the system or college program they’re from, college game tape, combine performance, and character interviews. In the bull selection world, the breeder is the equivalent of the college. The individual performance and performance in the pedigree is the equivalent of the college game tape. The marketing photo, the EPD algorithm, and livestock showing is the equivalent of the combine. Walking through the bulls without them fleeing or you fleeing is the equivalent of the character interview.

When it comes to AI, artificial insemination, essentially the whole field of bulls is available to a breeder, but often times mating decisions are still made by combine performance alone. In the world of information, I think we would all be surprised how many genetic selections are made based on a single still photo, a computer algorithm, or a single stock show judge that liked them. Judging bulls or players based on their combine performance alone is why so many teams missed on players like Romo, Warner, and Brady.

It is important to analyze what type of system your potential draft choice is coming out of. Maybe this bull doesn’t have a sixteen-hundred-pound yearling weight because of the system he plays in. Maybe he has the ability to throw the ball for sixteen hundred pounds but plays for a coach that has a run first system. Maybe those actual weaning weights are a little lower because the bull comes from a system that doesn’t creep feed. Hall of fame quarterback Kurt Warner may have been overlooked at lower tier Northern Iowa, assuming that he looked good only because of the sub-par talent he was competing against. Like a good professional scout, we need to have the ability and confidence to spot a good one and not be biased by the smaller program.

Look at the game tape. Watch all the game tape and not just the highlight reel. The pedigree and the individual performance make up the entire game tape. Are there holes in the performance in the pedigree? Getting enamored by individual performance is like watching one stand out game, maybe that bull can’t replicate that performance in generations to come. Every year as the draft approaches, scouts get enamored or discouraged by combine performance and tend to discount the game tape. There are always exceptions, but whether athletes or bulls, what they have done in the past will be most relevant to what they will do in the future.

Skip the hype and invest in quality. There are draft busts in professional sports every year just like there are genetic busts every year in bull selection. The risks of investing in a bust can never be completely mitigated, but an in depth look into all aspects will lessen the risk. There are good ones and bad ones in both premier breeding programs and lesser known breeding programs. Figure out what your cattle team needs to make them contenders, then get out and scout for your next bull draft.