What’s a Good Bull Worth in 2024?

Mark Johnson, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Breeding Specialist, offers herd health advice as part of the weekly series known as the “Cow Calf Corner,” published electronically by Dr. Peel, Mark Johnson, and Paul Beck. Today, Johnson talks about the value of a good bull.

The spring bull buying season is here it’s time to revisit the age old question. The question has been asked forever, or at least as long as we have been breeding cattle with a notion of trying to make the next generation better. It is a classic and timeless question. It is an important question.  At this time of year, when many bulls are being marketed and we are planning ahead for spring breeding season, it is a question that is asked a lot!   

The Answer

I remember first hearing the answer nearly 40 years ago as a student at OSU.  “A good bull is worth the value of five calves he sires.”  I’ve heard that answer again many times over the years.  It is a good answer and a good rule of thumb to follow, the problem is it doesn’t exactly narrow down the range. If we do a little “cowboy math,” this answer may in fact lead to more questions. Such as ………

What is considered a “Good Bull”?

For this discussion, qualifications to meet “Good Bull” status are:

  • 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).

When are we marketing our Calves?  What is their Value?

According to the most recent Oklahoma Market Report:

521 lb. weaned steer calves (Large, 1) are worth about $2.96/lb. for a value of approximately $1,542 per head.  Therefore, if my future marketing plan is to sell weaned steers, $1,542 x 5 = $7,710 is the answer.

910 lb. yearling steers (Large, 1) are worth about $2.09/lb. for a value of $1,902 per head.  Therefore, if my future marketing plan is to sell yearling steers, $1,902 x 5 = $9,510 is the answer.

1,400 lb. finished beef steers are worth $172.50/cwt live for a value of $2,415 each. Therefore, if my future marketing plan is to retain ownership through finishing and sell fed cattle on a live weight basis, $2,415 x 5 = $12,075 is the answer.

So, in the current market, a good bull is worth somewhere between $7,710 – $12,075 to a commercial cattle operation. Where exactly in that range depends on your marketing plan and the market conditions at that time. Not an exact number because there are many variables in play. One key point illustrated here is that the longer you own the offspring before marketing, the greater the value of the bull to your operation. Retained ownership gives you more time and opportunity to capture the value of your investment in genetics. It is noteworthy that we haven’t considered the value added to replacement females if we select daughters as our next generation of cows. Bulls used to sire the next generation of cows have a greater long-term economic impact on the profit potential of your operation.

I encourage cow-calf operations to consider their production system and marketing plan. Doing so should dictate where to apply selection pressure. Genetic values pay when you purchase bulls capable of improving genetic potential for the specific traits that will translate to added value at your intended marketing endpoint.

Keep the following chart in mind as another way to evaluate ownership cost of bulls on a per calf sired basis.

Bull Purchase Price:                                     $6,000             $9,000             $12,000

                                                                        $40                  $60                  $80

Cost per calf sired  – assuming 150 calves sired over duration of time as a herd bull.

Below, Mark Johnson, OSU Extension beef cattle breeding specialist, discusses the worth of a good bull on SunUpTV from March 4, 2023.

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