Weekly genetics review: Selling yearling bulls a winner

Genetics editor Alex McDonald , 24/04/2018

Mike Introvigne, Willie Altenburg, Altenburg Simmental Ranch, Colorado USA (Bonnydale alliance stud) and Rob Introvigne


MOST herd bulls in Australia are offered for sale at around two years of age, but some bull breeders sell their bulls as yearlings and believe the strategy has many advantages – for both buyer and vendor.

For this week’s report we’ve canvassed opinion from a selection of stud breeders who follow the strategy across Australia.

Mike and Rob Introvigne of Bonnydale Simmental stud at Bridgetown, WA have been selling yearling bulls since 2008.

After investing a considerable amount in their new black Simmental program, they decided to test the waters with ten yearling black Simmental bulls alongside their two year old traditional Simmentals. They sold all ten yearlings for a $7000 average, which encouraged them to stick with it. In 2014 they dispersed their traditional Simmental herd to focus on a black Simmental and SimAngus program.

The bulls are January/February drop and sold in the first week of February the following year, so they are 11.5 to 13 months of age on sale day.  Most of their clients will put these bulls with females in April, May or June of that year.

“The advantage for us is we don’t have 150 bulls running around our paddocks growing into two- year-olds and causing chaos. Instead they are out working in clients’ herds,” Mike Introvigne said.

As Bonnydale does not get to identify any structural problems that may arise while a bull grows-out to two years, the stud rigorously checks every bull sold for any potential problems, and follows up each bull’s progress with clients.

“We’re quite ruthless with selection, and as a result our recall rate sits at around 1.5 to 2 percent,” Mr Introvigne said.

“We put a lot of effort into optimising, and I emphasise optimise, the growth of the bulls prior to sale to ensure they will handle the rigor of the first mating season as a yearling, while providing in-built longevity.”

The  Introvignes’ production system means they wean bulls at eight to nine months (mid-October) weighing 400-500kg off the cow and grass fed only. Following weaning, they go onto grass until December 1 when they are placed on a specially prepared pellet for 60 days up to sale day.

“As long as they are prepared well and have enough weight in them, they will thrive for their new owner, as they are 600-700kg on sale day. If there is a disadvantage in yearling bulls, it is the workload between weaning and sale day when a lot is crammed into three months leading up to sale day,” Mr Introvigne said.

He said if a buyer of yearling bulls was prepared to give them a little more TLC following their first mating, they would not have any problems.

“The bulls toughen-up in that first year, which makes them more resilient and provides the basis for longevity. There are no real disadvantages to buying yearlings, but the seller of yearling bulls must be pro-active, with client support to ensure client expectations are met,” he said.

“Buyers get to use new genetics 12 months earlier and will get, at a minimum, an additional year out of the bull.”

There did not appear to be any more injuries to yearling bulls than two-year-olds, and they assimilated much better in their new surrounds than a two year old, Mr Introvigne said.

Genetics Central asked whether the stud took a lower average price for yearling bulls, and if so, whether this was offset by only having to keep and feed them until they were yearlings.

“We averaged $8700 at this year’s sale which was the third highest average behind two of the top Angus studs in WA, which sold rising two-year-old bulls, so we can’t complain,” he said.

“We utilise all the possible tools, including genomics, to provide a product that is worthy of our clients support and follow this up with exceptional after sales service.  “We don’t sell bulls, we sell a program.  “So I think price is influenced by many factors other than the age of the bulls at least that is what our clients tell us”, he said.

Buyer response positive

Principal of the Mordallup Angus stud at Manjimup, WA, Mark Muir said he had believed that selling yearling bulls was the way to go for a long time. He felt his bulls were mature enough to do the job, as he had always sold 11 to 15 month old yearlings in private sale treaties.

Yearling bull for sale in Mordallup’s 2018 sale

Doing background research, Mr Muir asked a number of bull clients what their thoughts were on buying solely yearling bulls. The general response was positive and they were keen to a least try a yearling bull to see for themselves, if that was what they wanted.

“So in late 2014 we sat down with our (Landmark) stud and commercial team to map out a five year plan to eventually convert to solely yearling sales,” Mr Muir said.

“We decided to continue our February two-year-old bull sale for the timebeing, and offer a small number of yearling bulls in a separate sale in May that year. We were normally selling between 60 and 70 two-year-olds in our main sale, plus the extra bulls in the new yearling format,” he said.

May 2015 was Mordallup’s first sale, and offered 26 yearlings with a complete clearance. The following year, 40 yearlings were sold, again producing a total clearance and a higher average.

“Our defining year was 2017 when we decided to sell our entire yearling drop of bulls, plus our two-year-old bulls in the same format as the previous two years, with two-year-olds sold in February and one-year-olds in May,” Mr Muir said.

It got to a stage where buyer inquiry for bulls in 2017 was markedly leaning towards yearling bulls.

“I would say for every inquiry I got for two-year-old bulls, I would get two or three people asking about our yearling sale. The market here in WA was very strong, and to me it was the perfect time to switch to the yearling sale format,” he said.

“To sell both the entire teams of bulls in one season, it had to be one of those perfect years and 2017 was. We had a total clearance of 60 plus bulls in the two-year-old sale with an average of $7300, and our yearling sale was a total clearance of 60 bulls with an average of $8300,” Mr Muir said.

This year’s selling season sold only yearling bulls, with 51 of 61 sold for an average of $5495, with a top price of $15,500 for a SAV Renown son.

Prices were generally down across the board in autumn bull and commercial sales in WA for the 2018 selling season, and in addition, the end of the 2017 into 2018 season in pasture terms were tight and dry, he said.

The age of Mordallup’s sale bulls are all around 12-14 months, with weights from 540 to 680kg.

This year all bulls offered were genomically tested to produce carcase Estimate Breeding Values (EBVs) and get a better accuracy across the board for all traits.

“With genomic testing, we’re finding we are getting a clearer picture of what our cattle are capable of and finding out a lot earlier. Also I’m still learning what genomic values will do for us,” Mr Muir said.

“The advantages of selling yearling bulls far outweigh the disadvantages. Our yearling bulls are mature enough and ready to work, they are fertile; they integrate better into the bull paddock and are able to mate heifers and/or cows with less mishaps and breakdowns. And buyers can get access to new genetics sooner and the younger bulls are easier to manage when they get them home so they are a good investment,” Mr Muir said.

“Buyers are telling me they love all these advantages. Plus when they buy yearling bulls they actually can visualise what these bull’s progeny will look like at the same age. Also they want bulls that look strong, mature and resourceful at this age.”

“I’m continually astounded by the results clients are getting in the number of females they are joined to, and the amazingly high conception rates that are achieved. I’m beginning to think yearling bulls may be more resourceful than two-year-olds are in their first season,” Mr Muir said.

While Mordallup did receive a lower average for its yearling bull sale this year, he said it was still ‘early days’ and still in the education period with bull buyers.

“I believe that differences in price will fade to a nil difference. My estimation of the cost savings for yearling bulls compared to two year olds is around the $1500 to $2000 per head.”

Increased genetic gain 

Kevin and Robin Yost of Liberty Charolais, Toodjay, WA, will hold their third annual yearling bull and female sale on May 21 at the Muchea Livestock Centre, offering 27 registered Charolais bulls, five Charbrays, a Shorthorn and five registered stud Charolais heifers.

“We have used yearling bulls in both our commercial and stud operation for many years and the benefits can be enormous,” Robin Yost said. “By selecting our best yearling bulls on their genetic makeup, which includes parentage, EBV’s and phenotype, we feel our genetic turn-over has increased ten-fold. Calves are hitting the ground as the sire is turning two years of age,” he said.

“We also find by running two or three yearling bulls in mating groups of one bull per 25 cows, that our calving spread has tightened and conception rates are at their highest.

“Multiple sire joining as yearling also decreases the likelihood of injuries to bulls, as they tend to socialise better, and it can also be seen as an insurance policy against breakdowns. We never use yearling bulls with older bulls as the risk of injury is too high,” Mrs Yost said.

“Yearling bulls have the potential to offer so much genetically, and financially and this is not only limited to their health and fitness. As they are still growing and developing, they have to be looked after during and especially post-mating. Putting them into paddocks with their peers, and keeping them on a higher plane of nutrition will ensure they reach their full potential. Yearling bulls can be ruined if they are pushed too hard under conditions that are challenging,” she said.

The Yosts aim to present their yearling bulls well, and have them grown to their full yearling potential come sale day, utilising a balanced, home-made growing ration.

“This is needed in our country to get them through the long hard summers. As all bulls are semen tested and with their latest scan data, weight and EBVs, we believe our buyers are looking for the right bull to suit their requirements using both visual appraisal and EBVs,” she said.

“Our biggest challenge is to convert bull buyers to the use of yearling bulls. Common belief is that they won’t grow out. This is possibly so if they are not looked after, but this will not change their genetic makeup and input.”

“As we move forward in the beef industry, the age-old belief that bulls should be fat and extremely well grown is probably no longer relevant. We strongly believe a bull’s value should be measured by the performance of his calves,” Mrs Yost said.

Scanning requirement limits at age at sale for Te Mania

Te Mania Angus stud at Mortlake, Vic has been selling 16-18 month old bulls in its annual March sale since 1995, when they switched to solely spring calving.

Stud principal Tom Gubbins said the stud would never sell bulls prior to scanning at 400 days.

Tom Gubbins

“We sell all our bulls once we have collected all the information that we require for genetic analysis from the bulls in large contemporary groups. This cannot occur until after 400 days of age,” he said.

“Younger bulls require less time on the farm to be fed, so they cost less to produce as a result, and there are less injuries and culls due to injuries.

However buyers of young bulls needed to buy more on genotype, than phenotype. They must rely more on EBV’s and performance figures, as the bulls are younger and less physically mature, he said.

“A disadvantage of selling younger bulls is a higher chance of client complaint rate, as it’s harder to predict possible changes in phenotype due to genetic makeup in a yearling as it is in a more mature bull,” Mr Gubbins said.

But there were a number of advantages for bull buyers, including faster genetic gain due to a reduced genetic interval, provided that the bulls go straight out with the females.

“Buying a younger bull and letting him acclimatise and settle into a new farm allows him to pick up pathology and immunity to diseases in the local area, making him less susceptible to disease in the long run,” he said.

When asked if Te Mania gets a lower average price for your yearling bulls Mr Gubbins said the average price of the younger bulls sold in March and two-year-old bulls sold at their Walgett sale in August are usually about the same.

“We have been genomically testing our bulls, as there is some increase in accuracy of the EBVs of young bulls with genomic testing, as it draws on data from the whole reference population. The Single-Step methodology increases that level of accuracy even further,” Mr Gubbins said.

“Single Step Breedplan has improved the accuracy of EBVs and gives us the opportunity for faster genetic gain. This means that the predictions of how progeny will perform will be even closer to what we see on the ground,” he said.

“Single Step is based on knowing more precisely the exact relationship between any two animals that have a genotype, than just simply knowing their traditional pedigree. As a simple example, two animals that have the same sire are expected to share one quarter of their genes, but in actual fact, the exact proportion in common, can range from about 20 to 30 percent. Knowing this type of information means that Breedplan makes more precise use of information from relatives in calculating EBVs,” Mr Gubbins said.

“Genomically testing the young bulls helps us make more accurate selections, and make faster genetic progress, and it helps the bull buyers because they have more accurate EBVs for all traits. It’s a win-win,” he said.

“Our buyers look more closely at the EBVs of yearling bulls than for older bulls, and this is a huge advantage to the buyer and to true advocates of performance recording, as the figures are the most accurate indicator of long term bull performance – not how fat and well fed he is,” Mr Gubbins said.

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  1. Jonathan Wright, 26/04/2018

    That is right Don, and there was a big swing within some seedstock producers to selling yearling bulls, but then it all stopped. Does anyone know why it all stopped, I don’t necessarily have the answers but it would be a great shame to repeat past mistakes.

  2. Don Nicol, 25/04/2018

    Are we just slow to catch on? Sandy Yeates’ booklet “Yearling bulls-tapping their immense potential”was published and widely distributed in 1992.

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