– Dr. Roy Burris, Beef Extension Professor, University of Kentucky

I’ve been thinking about a second career after my retirement from U.K. It should be something different than what I presently do but something which will also allow me to draw on my experience with beef cattle. I’ve got it! I’ll run a training camp for young athletes – maybe aspiring Olympic athletes even. I have the perfect model for my new business venture – and that is the way we presently develop yearling beef bulls for breeding. They’re athletes too, aren’t they? I’ll just use a similar plan for my new venture.

The first thing that I’ll do to get them in shape is confine these young athletes to a small area and then give them all the starchy food that they can eat. They’ll just lie around and walk over to the “training table” as often as they like. Hopefully their future “coaches” will confuse thickness (fat) with muscling because they might be a little on the “hefty” side. But that’s okay, isn’t it? We’ll change them over to a diet of green salad when “ball” season begins. They’ll be lean by the end of the season, won’t they!

Nah, I won’t do that. I’m just “poking a little fun” at the way we feed yearling bulls and then dump them into the breeding pasture. I understand that we are developing these young bulls so that we might have some idea of how their offspring will perform in the feedlot. But the problem is that these yearling bulls aren’t ready to “get into the game” after their postweaning feed test. They’re soft. They may also head to a breeding pasture that consists of toxic fescue. These young bulls will be so poor and run down at the end of their first breeding season that you could lead them around with a grass string! They might end up not siring many calves either.

Let’s be honest here. It is also easier to sell fleshy bulls but we should never use flesh to cover up faults. Some of these bulls are just plain “overfed and underbred”! In my opinion, purebred producers should put selection pressure on young breeding animals and cull animals with problems before they are sold to commercial cattlemen and pass those traits on in their herds.

Speaking of athletes, legendary Coach John Wooden of UCLA basketball fame was well known for the first thing he taught his basketball players. He taught them how to put on their socks and properly lace up their sneakers. That must mean that feet are real important to an athlete! Bulls should, of course, be sound in their feet, too. Not just because they have to have good feet to “stay in the game” but they could also be passing on foot problems to the next generation. We should have cows which stay sound on their feet for about ten years. Foot problems are almost epidemic in our beef herds – but could be eliminated by constant selection. Watch for “toes” on young bulls that are beginning to curl inward. They won’t get better. Certain bloodlines are worse than others, too.

Profitability in the cow herd is dependent upon breeding animals (bulls and cows) staying in the herd for several years. Bulls should be selected and developed as athletes so that they are functional for long periods of time. Of course, we want them to also pass on desirable genes to their offsprings. The seedstock producer is the key to this whole process.