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BCI Cattle Chat highlights pros and cons for buying, leasing or raising bulls

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The Kansas State University (KSU) Beef Cattle Institute’s (BCI) podcast hosts KSU BCI Veterinarian Bob Larson, BCI Clinical Assistant Professor Phillip Lancaster, KSU Professor and BCI Cattle Chat Host Brad White and Dalebanks Angus’ Matt Perrier to discuss buying bulls versus raising bulls on Feb. 10. 

Buying versus raising bulls

Perrier notes in most cases, it’s best to buy bulls rather than raise them. However, in some cases, raising them can be a good option.

“I have seen, on rare occasions, where raising bulls works pretty well for a commercial producer if they have enough size to raise their own seedstock,” he says. 

In most cases, producers will find it may pencil out in the short term, but in the long term, it can be more costly to raise a bull than to buy one. 

“Today, we look at things like genomic enhancements and DNA, which does a fabulous job of helping us manage our risk of population genetics,” he shares. “We’re not just purchasing a 1,200 to 1,500 pound animal, we’re buying decades worth of selection for a massive amount of traits, and those things do come at a cost.”  

“Sometimes it pencils out to raise a bull if an operation has high-quality cattle with good male offspring,” says Larson. “Sometimes an operation might have a large enough herd where they do have a purebred or a seedstock source herd, but it may come with some negatives, including inbreeding challenges.” 

“I think from a commercial standpoint, a lot of producers are thinking about the feed aspect,” adds Lancaster. “A producer might spend $1,000 to $1,500 in growing a weaned bull calf and not spend the $5,000-plus on a new bull, but we’re not taking into account the genetic predictions and all of the data collected in genomics, as well as all of the other costs associated with picking out a really good bull.” 

Bull data 

Larson explains for some producers, it may be easier to understand data from their own herd. 

“When I go to a sale, I may not feel qualified to interpret the available information on a bull, so it becomes easier for me to look at and pick out a bull from my own herd, which I know is performing well and his mother is performing well,” he says. 

“There’s some truth to this way of thinking, but to me, it’s not only about picking a bull, it’s picking my bull supplier. I need to be able to completely trust they are making genetic decisions in my best interest, even if I don’t understand them,” he adds.

White notes a bull’s phenotype and genotype is not always the same. Phenotype is the set of observable characteristics or traits of an organism, whereas genotype of an organism is its complete set of genetic material. 

“Producers can be looking at a bull, and he can be a really good bull, but what genes or genetics has he actually inherited that he’s going to pass on to the next generation?” Perrier asks. “Unless a producer is keeping track of parentage and lineage, they will have no idea what genetics will be passed on.” 

Balancing traits 

Perrier encourages listeners to consider all of the balance traits they have available when raising a bull and keeping it to put on their cows. 

“Sometimes producers will pick the biggest status bull and keep them back at branding or weaning time,” he says. “Sometimes what happens is, producers will keep this particular bull back for breeding, but they didn’t weigh him at birth and it creates issues on down the line.” 

He adds, “Don’t use a cheap, home-raised bull on heifers or it may cause a wreck because of this.” 

White notes a breeding soundness exam can help producers determine the effectiveness of a bull and his fertility, but genomic testing is also needed to determine the value of a breeding bull regardless of if they are raised or bought. 

Finding best solutions 

A Drovers Dec. 1, 2022 article titled, “Buy or Lease a Bull: What’s Best for Your Operation,” notes traditionally, many ranches will buy bulls, however, leasing bulls or utilizing artificial insemination (AI) are also options.

“Without a doubt, AI is a more labor-intensive breeding strategy. Yet, it’s another option to consider,” Lancaster adds.

“Comparable to leasing, AI allows producers to attain high-quality genetics at a fraction of the price,” Lancaster says. “Additionally, the risk of biosecurity found in leasing is not an issue with AI, and it requires no feed costs compared to having a bull on the place. The use of a sire’s semen can also be changed or adjusted each year to avoid the breeding of a sire’s daughter.”

The article notes there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. One, or a combination of the following, may provide the best return for an operation. 

Producers can calculate the cost of a bull per female pregnancy. For instance, buying a bull for $5,000 results in approximately 75 pregnancies, or 15 pregnancies over five breeding seasons, and equals approximately $67 per pregnancy, according to the article. 

A leased bull for $1,500, breeding 15 females, equals $100 per pregnancy. A straw of semen can also be considered and can range in price. 

The experts encourage producers to calculate the cost of feed and how much feed can be saved or used elsewhere by not owning a bull all year-round versus only during the breeding season.

Producers can also consider the opportunity cost in genetic potential by answering the following questions: how much are better, higher performing genetics worth to the operation? What is the operation’s end goal? Will the operation benefit from higher weaning weights or higher carcass quality?

Lastly, producers should consider the health of their herd and what biosecurity measures exist to ensure the herd remains healthy.

Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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