Weekly genetics review: What have we learnt from 2020’s autumn bull sales?

Genetics editor Alastair Rayner, 28/04/2020

Graham and Judy Houston, Burrowye, Vic, bought 11 bulls to a top of $28,000 for Houston Pastoral and Towong Pty Ltd at last week’s Reiland Angus autumn sale.

IT IS difficult to comprehend the extent of challenges that bull breeders faced while offering their annual draft of bulls during the autumn period of 2020.

The impact of drought, extreme temperatures and catastrophic bushfires in January had many bull breeders wondering how difficult this year’s sales might be. Within weeks of the season getting underway, the social-distancing and social-gathering restrictions enforced under Covid-19 placed a new level of complexity on holding bull sales and interacting with clients.

It is testament to the resilience and determination of breeders that this season’s bull sales not only continued, but in some cases attracted record results as producers sought to obtain genetics for use in breeding programs and commercial enterprises across the country.

There are a number of lessons to emerge from the autumn sales of 2020. The key, as has been highlighted in several previous columns, is the necessity to have a strong relationship between breeder and client. With almost every bull sale now having an online component, the relationship and the subsequent sharing of information pre-sale is a clear precursor to a successful sale result.

The recent Landfall Angus sale offered a strong example of the benefits from both client relationships and the use of on-line platforms interfaced with a physical auction.

In a strong sale, Landfall had a clearance of 99pc to average $9243, with the top priced bull reaching $33,000. Bought as a stud sire by Absolute Angus in Victoria, Landfall Leonardo P145 was one of the highest priced bulls to sell during the autumn 2020 sales season.

As a means of comparison, last year’s equivalent Landfall Angus autumn sale averaged $7339, boosted further by a top price of $75,000.

Several other Angus programs saw equally strong clearances this autumn. Accompanying the strong demand were sale averages well above last year’s Angus breed average of $6197.

Notable sales to exceed the 2019 breed average included Banquet Angus ($10,041 average); Spry’s Angus & Shorthorns ($9900) and Ascott Charolais and Angus at Warwick in Queensland ($7364). While the sale results themselves are good news, the underlying messages of well-described bulls including the provision of highly accurate EBVs for each animal was a constant.

Seasonal turnaround

The turnaround in seasonal conditions was obviously another factor in strong autumn 2020 results, however breeders from commercial and seedstock operations were also clearly seeking and rewarding bulls that possessed the traits for growth, fertility and in the case of Angus cattle, IMF.

The positive trend this past season was certainly not restricted to the Angus breed. Hereford cattle also saw continued strong demand with averages also above last year’s annual average of $6253.

Wirruna Herefords in southern NSW reached a top of $22,000 and an average of $8121. Earlier in the season, Injemira Herefords topped $30,000 and averaged $8919 and Mawarra Herefords made similar strong sales to top at $30,000 and average of $9322.

In fact, across all breeds with sales in the past three months, the trend for bulls has been surprisingly positive.

Several breeders have attributed the strength of the sales to the optimism that many commercial breeders are feeling with the strength of cattle prices. There are also the pragmatic observations that with prices so strong, the salvage value of bulls is much more favorable for purchasing new sires.

Among commercial producers, there is perhaps a general feeling that this year’s offerings of bulls are naturally a lot stronger, due to the intensive selection pressure seedstock producers have had to use to bring numbers down to match a reduced national cow herd.

Several producers have commented in recent weeks that the drafts are “smaller numbers, but are better bulls,” or as one succinctly put it, “there’s less of a tail.” This has tended to encourage producers to feel more confident in pursuing cattle that fit their breeding objectives.

However, looking towards the spring sales, having less of a tail is in itself not enough to prompt producers to strongly pursue cattle. The growing ‘familiarity’ among producers in using online auction platforms, and the focus on obtaining specific traits for a program means it will be more likely producers will search more widely for their preferred animal, come spring time.

While this does open up the opportunity for some smaller breeding programs to access new buyers, transitioning ‘online viewing’ to ‘online purchasing’ will require more than just marketing and strong descriptions.

The appreciation of description and the time-saving approach of bidding online needs to be underpinned by strong client focus and trust.

Of all the trends to emerge most strongly in the autumn sales, the investment in relationships to ensure sales happen is perhaps the most important for 2020.


  • This week’s column concludes Beef Central’s autumn bull sales coverage. Genetics editor Al Rayner will now take a short break, before returning to cover the 2020 spring bull sales period from week commencing 15 June. In the meantime, Beef Central will shortly start compiling its comprehensive national list of 2020 spring bull sales. Keep a lookout for the list (accessible here) closer to June. We will remind bull breeders closer to spring selling season to check their entry on our searchable list, and provide details if it needs amendment.



Alastair Rayner

Alastair Rayner is the Principal of RaynerAg, an agricultural advisory service based in NSW.  He regularly attends bull sales to support client purchases and undertakes pre sale selections and classifications.  He can be contacted here or through his website













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