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  Bull Selection for Functional Efficiency

Veteran Texa Longhorn breeder, Walter Scott, often stressed the importance of herd sire selection. Your herd sire influences 50% of all of your production. Expense should never be spared when it comes to your reputation as a breeder of quality seedstock, but buyer beware that an escalated price does not guarantee overall quality.

Breeders should look at the total package and not be dazzled by one desirable trait or current trends toward fashionable bloodlines. Mr. Scott advises buyers to view both parents of a prospective herd sire as well as all available siblings, to look for any weaknesses or defects. "Both parents of the prospective bull should possess important characteristics. These would include correctness of the dam's udder, how well the dam raised her calves, reproductive history of the dam, quantity and quality of the sire's progeny, an evaluation of the paternal grandam and more." Walter Scott outlined bull selection criteria in "Screening the Potential Herd Sire" in the January/February 1988 Texas Longhorn Journal.

"Consider there to be five main categories in the evaluation for masculinity: 1. Testosterone influences bone growth. When a bull is sexually mature, bone growth stops. This is not so in the skeletal development of a steer or low fertile animal because the lack of testosterone delays the ossification process, particularly in the anterior half of the body. 2. Hair and hide are influenced by hormones as well. Coarse hair is a sign of masculinity. When selecting a bull, look for ample hair on the sheath and crest of the neck. The hair should be darker on the neck, crest, upper shank, lower ribs and thighs. A hair coat with a lot of glisten indicates the secretion of zebum, which helps control external parasites. Look for a smooth-waxy appearance along the spine. The hide should be loose and active. There is a reversal of these characteristics in old bulls when libido is lost. The same is true in bulls that have been sick with a high fever and some bulls that have been overfed. 3. 'The muscles of bulls should be well defined and readily seen. Do not confuse muscle and fat. 4. The testicles of a bull that is too fat cannot descend correctly in the scrotum. This causes a lack of testosterone secretion, which causes him to become fatter. This in turn suppresses muscle development and decreases fertility. Fat distribution on low fertility bulls is similar to that on low fertile cows and steers; namely on hips, pins, flanks, groin, shoulder, neck and brisket. 5. A healthy bull should be alert and pay close attention to his surroundings."

Mr. Scott went on to list twenty-four conformational checkpoints to judge for correctness. Some of these included: checking the legs for "arthritic swollen knees which is a highly heritable defect, the topline should be straight particularly in young bulls, there should be greater weight on the forelegs of the bull while the opposite is true for the cow, view the bull from the rear to observe that the sacral vertebral are straight with no indication of wry tail, sickle hocks and straight hocks should be discriminated against because they will weaken and not bear up to servicing of cows, the testicles should hang square and not twisted and be of the same size, face should not be pinched in or narrowed down into the muzzle nor should it be dished across the bridge of the nose, the face should be flat or somewhat 'Roman-nosed' meaning convex when viewed from the side, ears should be small and tightly set under the homs, a dip should appear ahead of the dock of the tail, when viewed from the rear the hindquarters should be sloping to the sides, the point of the pins should be somewhat flat with the point of the hooks and not lowered excessively, and the britches or twist should not be developed to the point of beefiness."

Many of these selection criteria are substantiated by Gerald Fry in How To See & Select A Fertile Bull published in the August 2001 Stockman Grass Farmer. Mr. Fry wrote, "the hair about a bull's head, face and neck should be coarse and curly. There should be downward creases in the thick skin of the neck and the skin should be movable. The shoulder blades should be loose and movable to the point of seeing the blade rotate above the spine by as much as 1/2 inch as he walks. If the spine bone rises above the shoulder blades when the bull is standing, he would be classified as a low fertile bull. If you lay a straight edge across the bull's shoulders, it should touch both shoulder blades and the spine at the same time. The crest on the neck must begin development by 12 months of age if the bull is to have a large scrotal circumference. The scrotum should be dark in color with only a very thin layer of silky hair. The testicles should be football shaped and be exactly the same size, shape, length and tone with a well-developed epididymis of the same firmness."

Buyers are advised to seek out reliable breeders. The economic value of a registered animal depends upon the accuracy of pedigrees, as well as the accuracy and quality of production records. Crossbred cattle possess and will spread genetic characteristics fundamentally different from those of
fullblood cattle. The perpetuation of impure genetics through registration of those animals threatens the existence of the breed. There are breeders that will compromise breed integrity for short term gain. Those individuals should be eliminated from a cattle buyers' selection pool.

One method of assuring the animal you buy is what it was represented to be, is by purchasing the animal on approval of DNA parentage verification. This may be taken one step farther to determine if the animal possesses markers that indicate the presence of another breed in its ancestry. Blood typing science does not attempt to define what is purebred. It instead identifies animals that are clearly non-traditional. To learn more about cattle blood typing science, contact H.C. Hines, PhD - Director, Cattle Blood Typing Laboratory - Department of Dairy Science - The Ohio State University - Columbus, OH 43210, and request a copy of the 1992 report "Cattle Blood Typing." Another great resource is ImmGen, Inc.'s new website at It details the most current science available to date. [Reprinted from an article "Blood Typing" by Jeanie Johnson in the April 1985 The Longhorn Scene, quoting Dr. Jerry Caldwell and Cecilia Penedo of UC Davis] "

Jerry Caldwell, PhD immunogeneticist at ImmGen, Inc. in College Station, the official blood typing laboratory for the TLBAA, has compiled through his research since 1972, thousands of Longhorn blood types. He has traveled throughout North, Central and South America, Africa, Asia, India and Europe, studying cattle genotypes.


Last Update:
October 21, 2016
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