By Austin Snedden, Ranching Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
For many years, some people have considered yearling bulls insufficient for covering cows in big, multi-sire pastures. 18-month-old and 2-year-old bulls are still very popular purchases, especially in California. The selection and purchase of a yearling bull not only gets a producer at least one more year of use, but also allows the producer the opportunity to select a bull at an age of maximum economic importance. The year-old animal is at the age of most significant relevance to the cow/calf producer. Most cow/calf producers have recently sold their steers or are getting ready to sell their steers and non-replacement heifers at a year of age, and some producers calves are in the feedlot at a year of age. So, naturally selecting genetics at a year of age is relevant to the economics of most programs. For most producers, the most important selection they will make happens when the cattle are at a year of age, and that is the selection of their replacement heifers. If a producer wants the genetics of their cattle to be at an optimum place for market at that weaning to yearling age and expects their heifers to be ready to breed as yearlings, then it is only natural to select bulls based on the merits they exhibit as yearlings. Evaluation of potential at yearling is extremely valuable to analyzing the important economic traits that will be passed on to the bulls’ progeny.
Producers can also benefit from the time between yearling and two years of age, when your new bull is adapting to your country, getting his legs under him, and gaining athleticism that will make it easier on your cows as the bull reaches his mature weight. One of the most significant advantages is in calving ease bulls, where a yearling can be used for an additional season before he becomes physically too large to safely cover heifers. Yearling bulls have the ability to cover cows and fill a niche in covering the cows that some of the older dominant bulls may overlook. Many of us use yearling bulls every year in multi-sire pastures and almost always expect a yearling bull to cover 20+ cows in a single sire pasture and have had great success with breeding ability and conception rates. There is no question that an inexperienced aged bull has to learn “the tricks of the trade” just like a yearling; the only difference is that a yearling bull will be learning with a lighter more agile body, which is not only easier on the bull but easier on the cows.
The growth curve that your genetics possess is going to become increasingly more important in years to come. More cattle are being harvested at a younger age, and the nations’ cow herd is getting ever larger cows. Selecting cattle that have rapid early growth and then plateau will lead us down a road of highly marketable calves that will grade and a cowherd that is economically viable in terms of cow size. There are many bulls that would not draw your eye at yearling that a big feed bucket can make fairly attractive by the age of two.
To some of you this may be “preaching to the choir,” but I still commonly run into folks with the misconception that yearling bulls are unable to cover cows or that, somehow, they won’t last as long. The purpose of this write up is not to put down aged bulls or any breeders, but rather to defend yearlings and promote their merits. There are many great aged bulls out there from reputable breeders that have the quality to market their cattle as yearlings, and I would encourage every cattle producer to keep buying seed stock from programs that have worked well for them. If your seed stock supplier does not sell yearlings, I would encourage you to go analyze those cattle as yearlings to make sure you are picking the ones that match the growth curve you are looking for and have the yearling characteristics that are economically important to your cow herd.