As a breeder of stud Murray Grey cattle for 40 years, we consider our clientèle to be local commercial producers. It is interesting to reflect on what our clients are seeking when they look at bulls.

We moved our stud to Binda in the Southern Tablelands in 2005. We are at an altitude of about 800 metres and our winters get pretty cold and snow can fall almost any time of the year. The best snow fall we have had was in October 2012. The coldest we have recorded was -15 degrees Celsius in 2006. The climate has a definite effect on our breeding program and also on the type of cattle that local breeders favour.

Most cattle herds in our area are small, either because of property size or because cattle are run as an adjunct to a sheep enterprise. Traditionally a Hereford stronghold, the predominant cattle colour is now black. Some have switched to straight Angus, others have used an Angus bull in their Hereford herd to produce black baldies. There is a small but significant number of Murray Grey breeders.

The greatest potential market for our bulls is the commercial ‘black herd’ sector which is much larger than the straight Murray Grey herds. We have tried to market to a wider range of herds. Initially this was by producing black bulls as an alternative to Angus but also by demonstrating that our cattle are commercially superior.

Our stud description is that we are “The Quiet Achievers”. We make the assumption that potential buyers driving through our gate come on the expectation that our cattle are quiet and will perform.

This discussion centres on what the potential buyer is looking for within our herd and has arisen because we seek to fine tune our breeding program. We are always looking towards the horizon because decisions taken now will have results in three years or more.

Temperament. Some clients approach us expressing dissatisfaction with the temperament of bulls of other breeds. However, none appear to try to select the quietest of our bulls. Usually the comment is that all are very quiet. They should be – we work on that.

Growth rates. Growth rate to weaning has been a major culling criterion in our herd after temperament and structure. However, clients appear to take this as a given in our bulls. They appear to place more emphasis on visual appraisal than production data, whether this is actual growth rates or Breedplan figures.

Calving ease / heifer bulls. We weigh all calves at birth and place a high emphasis on calving ease within our own herd. We expect calves to be born quickly and we intervene early. Even so, our percentage of assisted deliveries is below 5%. Calves that we pull are culled. We review dystocia cases to identify the cause. Cows are usually culled unless the bull is implicated. We find that the shape of the calf is more important than the actual size. Big heads, shoulders or wide hips are to be avoided. We like our bulls to have a predictable range of birth weights in their calves. Bulls that have a proportion of big calves are culled. We want to be confident of minimal calving difficulties and so do our clients. Calving ease is a high priority shown by all our clients and most say the bull will be used over heifers. Most of our clients only have one bull and of the remainder some run heifers with cows at joining anyway. When looking at our bulls, clients avoid those with above average BW or BW EBV even when there is a history of calving ease on both sides of the pedigree. We have some large framed cows that have above average BW EBVs which they give to their calves even when the calf itself is of average BW.

Frame score. We find that buyers definitely prefer moderate frame score bulls. In this area the larger animals are hard to finish before the cold weather sets in. Our bigger females have difficulty getting enough fat cover after their first pregnancy and often do not go back in calf quickly.

Muscle score / butt profile. Muscle score or butt profile is very important to bull buyers and this reflects the demand in local saleyards. Butt profile is more important commercially than eye muscle area (EMA) because buyers can not accurately assess EMA while they are very astute in judging butt profile. Also the range of EMA in Breedplan is about 4 sq cm which is relatively small when considered in animals with average of perhaps 90 sq cm EMA. We are therefore trying to improve the muscle score of our herd.

Colour. We find that the greatest general demand has been for black bulls while Murray Grey breeders tend to want silver bulls. Buyers will take a grey bull if he is very good but generally we have to price our grey bulls about $500 cheaper than the black or silver bulls to get the sale.

Conclusions. We will take an increasingly hard look at high birthweight bull calves, not because we think they will necessarily give calving problems but because they are hard to sell. The future of our biggest females may be in doubt as they too produce bulls which are less popular. We will continue to select bulls and females on the basis of muscle score. We plan to breed more silvers by breeding silver to silver and more blacks by putting grey bulls over our grey and black females.

We welcome other thoughts.

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