Consultant and Beef Today columnist
It’s the start of bull-buying season and time to think about how you can maintain value in your bull investments. With careful evaluation of a bull’s feet, you can add or maintain his value and longevity in your herd.
One of the main reasons that cattlemen cull bulls is simply because of their feet. All too often, bulls are culled because their feet have limited their ability to breed cows. If a bull is lame or sore footed, his libido and aggression in breeding cows can be reduced. Any time this happens, dollars are lost for producers.
In some areas of the country, a bull may have to travel several miles each day to graze and get water. In other areas, cattle run in smaller 20-, 50- or 100-acre pastures. In regions where grazing distances are shorter, feet structure may not be as heavily scrutinized, but they should be.
What causes foot problems? The shape of the foot can contribute to how the foot wears. If the shape is incorrect, the bull’s weight distribution can lend to incorrect wear and eventually reduce his soundness and longevity. For instance, if a bull has a screw claw or a toe that curls over the opposite toe (see photos above) he might experience joint problems.
Shallow heel depth is another problem that I often see. When this occurs, there is more stress on the lower limb joints and back of the hoof. Soreness here can hinder a bull’s ability to mount a cow.
Look closely. When evaluating bulls, start at the ground and work upward. A careful look at the toe shape and heel depth can indicate a lot about the bull’s future longevity and breeding ability.
While we don’t have EPDs for feet, some breed associations are working to develop foot scores. A word of caution: An exceptional EPD profile for growth, carcass value or maternal traits is of no value if a bull has bad feet and has limited breeding seasons.
What’s the economic implication of hoof problems? The fewer seasons a bull can breed cows, the fewer calves his purchase price and maintenance costs can be spread across. Also, when we turn bulls out, we expect them to do their job. A bull that is lame or sore footed may leave us with open cows.
Foot issues can be hereditary and costly. As you make bull-buying decisions this fall and winter, take a closer look at your investment’s feet. You’ll be glad you did.
Cheramie Viator specializing in genetics and marketing. She takes a big-picture approach to herd management. A native of Louisiana, she has worked all across the country to help ranchers maximize opportunities. Contact Cheramie:
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