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Genetic performance is key at Midland Bull Test

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on March 21, 2020

Columbus, Mont. –  Every April, countless consignors and over 1,000 bulls from across the country congregate in Columbus, Mont. to measure performance potential of individuals and sire groups during the annual Midland Bull Test. This year marks 58 years of the best of the best going head to head for a coveted spot in the Final Sort Sale. 

            “Our emphasis continues to be on balanced performance – from sensible birthweights, early maturity, functional maternal traits, economical weights, compatible carcass merits, a phenotype that enhances these economical traits,” says the McDonnell and Williams families, organizers of the event.

            “Considering yearling bulls bought in the spring won’t sire a weaned calf until the next fall, and daughters of these bulls won’t go into production for two years, it is no light matter,” they say. “Look at the dam production records on the Midland Bulls, it is unmatched. There is no other sale that offers buyers as strong an offering as the composite maternal growth bulls at Midland.”

            They continue, “Buyers would have to go to a dozen bull sales or more to find as many top bulls from top producing cows as they will see at Midland in one day.”
            “One of the nicest compliments we receive each year from the buyers at Midland is the fact buyers can purchase high quality bulls all the way through the sale,” the families boast. “Many of the bulls selling at Midland would be used to start most production sales.”

Program history

            According to their website, Midland Bull Test began in 1962 when Leo McDonnell Sr. started testing a group of bulls from small purebred breeders. 

            “This concept of weighing and measuring cattle and publishing the resulting data as far as birthweights, weaning weights, gains, dam’s production and yearling weights was not met favorably by most of the purebred industry nationally,” the website reads. 

            The site continues, “However, under this constant pressure from the opponents of performance, Midland Bull Test, the Montana Beef Performance Association and several staunch seedstock producers continued to define, refine and promote performance as a primary tool in managing the profitability of a cowherd.”

            “We’re proud to be one of those who didn’t compromise our beliefs or program. Although Montana Beef Performance is no longer in existence, its effect and primary guidelines have continued on and been incorporated, in part, into many of the major breed performance associations,” they say.

            “Proven through competition, Midland bulls are unsurpassed in providing more trait leaders in the major breeds than any other breeder, test station or the combined effort of the major stock shows,” the website concludes.

Efficiency testing

            Midland Bull Test is North America’s largest feed efficiency testing program. The program utilizes the GrowSafe system. 

            GrowSafe allows cattle to eat one at a time and uses electronic identification to collect data and monitor and track consumption. This data is used to calculate residual feed intake (RFI). 

            “RFI is relevant and important to producers as it correlates the pounds of gain to the pounds of intake, and therefore, the increment cost of gain,” according to Midland. “As such, RFI allows producers to determine those individuals who have the capacity to gain quickly and cheaply.”

            GrowSafe defines incremental pounds of feed required for one pound of gain above or below the average. Efficient animals eat less and have a lower RFI, while inefficient animals eat more and have a higher RFI.

            Midland Bull Test also tests bull for fertility through scrotal circumference measurements and semen evaluations.

            “Fertility is a major objective in a cow/calf operation,” according to Midland leadership. “A key component of efficient calf production is a high fertility level in each breeding animal in the herd.”

            Semen quality is determined by criteria such as sperm structure, motility, volume and concentration. 

            All bulls sold in the Final Sort Sale must meet a minimum scrotal circumference measurement of 32 centimeters by 365 days of age.

            “Measuring the scrotal circumference of young bulls is an accurate and repeatable method to assess current and future sperm-producing ability,” says the website. “The measurement gives an estimate of the weight of the testes, which is directly related to the level of sperm production. Scrotal measurement is also positively correlated with semen volume and quality.” 

            They continue, “Bulls with adequate scrotal development for their age have a higher probability of becoming satisfactory breeders than bulls with smaller scrotal circumferences. Scrotal circumference is of medium to high heritability.”

Sale day

            Bull sales start at 11 a.m. both days, with awards presented prior to the sale.

The sale order is determined by the Midland Bull Test Index, which is 25 percent average daily gain, 25 percent nursing ratio, 25 percent yearling ration and 25 percent efficiency ratio, coupled with estimated sale value.

            The sale order will be posted in advance and a sale catalog is available at 

            Small changes should be expected and will be posted online. On sale day, more information is available online or by calling 406-322-5597, 406-322-9044 or 406-322- 9911.

            Each animal will be sold to the highest bidder with the auctioneer settling any differences.

            Cattle will be sold according to health regulations of the state of Montana  and interstate health certificates will be furnished for transport. Additional fees apply to cattle purchased by Canadian buyers.

            For all registered cattle in the sale, registration papers will be transferred to their new owner at the seller’s expense.

            Cattle will be delivered to central locations in the lower 48 states. More information on delivery is available in the Midland Bull Test Sale catalog.

            Auctioneers include Joe Goggins, Roger Jacobs and Greg Goggins. Field representatives for each breed will be present including Kurt Kangas from the American Angus Association, Katie Oschner from the Red Angus Association of America, Dean Pike of the American Salers Association, John Paterson from the American Simmental Association, Jim Brown of the North American South Devon Association and Ty Groshens of the American International Charolais Association.

            Callie Hanson, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, has compiled this information from the Midland Bull Test Final Report, catalog and website. Send comments on this article to or visit for more information.

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