March 15, 2005

Changes in bull sale benefit breeders, buyers

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Buyers planning to attend Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s annual performance-tested bull sale will see some changes this year. The most obvious? Time and date.

“It used to be on a Friday night, and we have changed it to Saturday at noon,” said SIUC animal scientist Karen L. Jones, who took over managing the University’s Beef Evaluation Station last fall after the retirement of long-time supervisor H.D. Woody.

“Part of the reason for the change was that we were loading bulls at midnight for people, and we wanted to do it in daylight. This will also give our buyers from all over the state and surrounding areas time to get here.

“And we’ve moved it up to the first Saturday in April (April 2) — about two weeks earlier than it’s been in the past. We are trying to work around planting season for those who need to get their crops in the ground.”

SIUC has offered performance testing — a means for rating bulls on desirable traits that they likely will pass on to their offspring — for 30 years. Breeders enroll their animals for the 112-day test period at the College of Agricultural Science’s Rowden Road station, where the bulls get a special diet, and station staff members keep careful records on the animals’ growth and development.

Changes have occurred in this area, too, Jones noted.

“We have partnered with Purina and are using their new rations designed just for bulls,” she said.

“We’re trying to get a healthier bull, putting the growth in muscle rather than fat. Pound for pound, it’s probably the same cost (as the old ration), but because it has an intake modifier, the bulls don’t eat as much. That’s important because the people who are bringing their bulls to us ultimately have to pay for the food — if the bulls are eating less, the owners make more money when their bulls sell.”

In addition, Jones has tinkered with the selection index, a means for ranking each bull in relation to others of its breed. Before, station managers used numerical values for a bull’s average daily weight gain, his total weight divided by his age at the end of the test period and his feed efficiency — how much food it took to produce each pound of that gain — in computing the index.

Now, the calculations include bloodline-based predictions, called expected progeny differences (EPDS for short), as to how much the bull’s offspring will weigh at birth, at weaning and at one year of age, and how much milk his future daughters will give.

“We do this as a convenience for the buyers, but we also give them all the individual data,” Jones said. “Just because a particular bull is ranked No. 1 in his classification doesn’t mean he’s the best bull for a particular farm.

“For example, you might have a bull that grows very fast and performs very well, but his EPD may suggest that his calves will be very large at birth. This might be a problem if you’re planning on using him with a young heifer. So he might be ranked very highly but not work in your situation at all.”

Those curious about how the evaluations are going can get sneak previews at the station’s Web site,, another feature new this year.

“It’s got all the breed reports, the monthly weight data — all the information that will go into our catalog,” Jones said. “The figures that will determine the selection index are updated monthly.”

This year’s auction will feature 71 animals — one short of the maximum number the station can handle.

“It’s a full sale — we have lots of bulls — and we welcome everyone, even those who may not necessarily want to buy,” Jones said.

Shaping cooperative ventures is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.