The Sunday News
OFTEN livestock farmers ask my opinion regarding bull selection especially with regards to whether to buy a young bull or a mature one.
Further probing usually reveals that more farmers are more inclined towards buying a young bull than getting a mature working bull.
Their choice is usually motivated by cost and much less by any other considerations be they scientific or otherwise. Therefore, this week we want to discuss a few factors that a livestock farmer can consider when deciding to buy either a young bull or a mature working bull.
The first point to establish for livestock farmers is that a bull is very important for your herd because it helps you control principally two issues in your herd. The first one is genetics, when you have a bull of a defined breed, you know what type of offspring to expect from your cows.
Secondly, it helps with reproduction conception rates within your herd because cows and heifers will not come in and out of heat without taking a bull, something that can happen when you rely on communal bulls. As a farmer the last thing you want for your cow is to come into heat and there is no bull to service her.
Having said that, another thing to point out about bulls is that they reach their performance peak at around three to four years of age depending on the breed and other environmental factors.
Therefore, when you buy a mature bull and you are unable to establish his correct age, you could be buying him when he is way down the slope from the peak of his performance.
In other words, you could be buying something that is almost finished regarding its usefulness. This could turn out to be very painful especially considering the amount of money one has to part with to get a good bull of a good breed.
Imagine parting with USD$5 000 to buy a bull and two years down the line the guy is finished! The point is, when you buy a mature bull be sure to verify the age so that you are not buying a spent cartridge at a premium price!
However, mature working bulls have a number of advantages on their side. It is already a working bull so there is no waiting period, next season you are getting its progeny. So, you will not have to wait another year or two to start reaping benefits of your investment.
Also working bulls have progeny from which you can have a glimpse of their product. The seller can show you a number of heifers and steers sired by the bull before you purchase it, and that can assist with visualisation of the product you will get from the bull.
In simple terms there is track record of its performance and references are there for physical verification. On the other hand, young bulls have a number of disadvantages on their side and one of them is waiting for it to mature before it starts working.
This could be a year or even two years depending at what age you bought it and environmental factors as well.
In that waiting period a lot can happen to your priced young bull. It can get lost or stolen, die from natural causes or snaring and regardless the circumstances of its demise, it’s a loss of your investment before you started reaping benefits.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, young bulls have no performance records and hence you will not be able to verify its expected progeny difference. You will only rely on what its parents look like and how they performed but not the young bull itself.
So, you are simply buying something whose performance you don’t know but you are hoping that it will perform like its parents! That can turn out to be a very big ask.
The advantage however, of buying a young bull, is that the cost is usually within reach of many farmers. Again, you get to train the bull to suit your management style. A mature bull can be a handful at times because it has a fully established habit and pattern of life style.
This style may not sit well with you, for example the tendency to stray into people’s cropping fields, the habit of bulldozing itself from the kraaling pens and breaking everything in the process! Another plus for the young bull is that you get to have it during
its prime performance age and you will stand to benefit from this phase.
These are some of the few factors to consider when deciding to buy either a young or a mature working bull. The verdict remains yours.
Mhlupheki Dube is a livestock specialist and farmer. He writes in his own capacity. Feedback [email protected]