The working man’s bull test

By Tom Hallman

Bull testBefore you make a big investment, you put the product to the test.

It’s true of an appliance or a new car. It’s also true of a bull.

For decades, Clemson Extension, like land-grant universities across the country, has held bull tests to help cattle producers identify bulls – and bloodlines – that will yield efficient weight gain.

“The idea is that the genetic traits of the bull will be passed along to its offspring,” said Scott Sell, a Clemson Extension agent who directs the forage bull test sale at Clemson’s Edisto Research and Education Center. “You’re looking for efficiency in how that animal gains weight. The difference in our test is in where they’re getting the nutrition to put on that weight.”

Edisto StaffThe Edisto test differs from others in the bulls’ diet. While most tests feed them grain, Edisto offers bulls merely what they will get when they start to work on the farm: pasture grass.

Beginning with an appetizer of  Tift 85 Bermuda grass, the bulls munched through the test on similar grasses that are common Southeastern cattle diets, with side dishes of a little alfalfa hay and other occasional treats. But they didn’t enjoy large doses of corn or other grains to fatten them up.

“It’s more real-world conditions,” said Keith Hawkins of Hawk’s Nest Ranch, who breeds angus cattle in Hickory Grove, S.C., and enters bulls in the Edisto test regularly. “Bulls from the forage test are a lot more stable. When you leave with them, they don’t melt like a stick of butter when you get them home.”

“When the bulls leave here they are ready to work,” Sell said. “Cattle genetics have improved over the years to the point they’ve become more efficient on grass. That makes a test like this even more important.”

Bulls at the Edisto test registered an average daily weight gain of 2.66 pounds, “really good for a forage test,” Sell said.

“We had a phenomenal year as far as grazing was concerned. It couldn’t have been better,” he said. “The bulls came in here averaging 671 pounds and left averaging 1,250. We doubled their weight with absolutely nothing out of a bag. People can take those genetics home and know that they’re going to perform.”

Learn more about the Edisto Forage Bull Test: