TTU ag professor offers beef bull buying tips

Current beef bull buying trends among farmers in Tennessee bring a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘bull market.’

“Recent higher beef calf prices and local incentive programs have caused bull prices to increase to levels above a 13-year average,” said Sam Winfree, a Tennessee Tech University agriculture professor and Angus breeder who has been collecting and analyzing bull sale data each year since 1994.

The Beef Enhancement Program and the Master Beef Producer Program, for instance, provide incentives ranging from $750 to $1,000 for buyers to purchase superior bulls with no defects and superior conformation and performance history.

According Winfree’s statistical analysis, bull buyers are willing to spend about $6,000 for a superior beef bull, although the actual average price since 1994 has been around $2,200 in organized sales and auctions and around $1,750 in private sales.

Since he first began analyzing the data, however, Winfree said he’s noticed that buyers have naturally developed a two-stage process of bull selection, initially deciding which bulls are preferred and then considering how much to pay for the animals of their choice.

“Studying the habits of beef bull buyers is, at best, a fickle science because many factors affect which bull is chosen and the ultimate selling price,” he said.

What are some of the interesting trends and characteristics influencing bull buyer preferences in Tennessee right now?

• Buyers pay more for longer, taller bulls with larger frame size estimates.

• The sale weight has a significant positive effect on sale price. “Buyers will pay more for heavier bulls in a group, even if these bigger bulls are significantly older,” Winfree said.

• Low birth weight and pedigree strongly influenced sale prices from 1994 to 2000 but had somewhat less of an influence after 2000.

• The breed mix has changed significantly since 1994 of the bulls offered for sale in the University of Tennessee Tested Bull Sale at Spring Hill — which is considered an elite bull sale by many beef producers in Tennessee.

“Earlier sales included Angus, Hereford, Charolais, Simmental and Brangus bulls, but more recent sales are composed almost entirely of only Angus bulls,” Winfree said.

• Maternal values such as birth weight and milk production affects sale price, but the influence of those values has declined slightly in recent years.

• Estimates of muscling, marbling and percent retail product — along with a new dollar-value estimate — may be influential in establishing higher prices, Winfree said.

• Scrotal circumference, hip height, frame size and estimated fat thickness and rib eye area are also useful data in bull evaluation. “These data are relatively easy to collect but are frequently not available to buyers,” Winfree said.

“Scrotal circumference is highly related to bull semen quality, and a breeding soundness exam is also related to higher bull values or prices,” he continued.

In addition to data gathered from the UT Spring Hill sale and from TTU’s Bull Evaluation Center, Winfree also gathered data from several private, on-farm transactions, including those of the Amonett family of Byrdstown and Macedon Angus of Madison, Ala. Both sell 60 to 100 Angus bulls off the farm each year.

Ed Horton of Macedon Angus said, “We’ve sold all of our older bulls and are now selling down into the older weanlings, which we have never done. Business have never been this good.”

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