Forage-fed bulls pass the test at Edisto research sale

By Tom Hallman

Forage fed cattleIt's a test many students would jump at the chance to take: All you have to do is eat. Grades are based on how much weight you gain.  

The trick is, all you get to eat is grass. And you have to be a bull.  

For more than 30 years, young bulls have been taking this annual test at Clemson University’s Edisto Research and Education Center.  

Beef and forage specialists with the Clemson Extension Service carefully evaluate the animals to see how efficiently they gain weight on a diet of pasture grass.  

"This is the diet that the bulls' offspring will have. Bulls with a proven ability to gain weight on grass are more likely to pass that trait onto the next generation," said Kevin Campbell, coordinator for this year's test and a Clemson Extension agent for livestock and forages. 

"These bulls will be providing the genetics for the next generation of calves that will go into the cattle industry in South Carolina and throughout the Southeast," Campbell said. "They are proven genetics. That’s what the test is all about."  

The 2012 class — 28 bulls from five cattle breeds — spent 168 days on their lessons this year. They were monitored throughout the test and graded on three scales: average daily weight gain during the test, weight per day of age at the end of the test and on an index that takes both those measures into account.  

The final exam came in October, when Clemson and the S.C. Cattlemen’s Association hosted the 2012 Edisto Forage Bull Test Sale. The auction to local cattle breeders drew more than $80,000 for the animals.  

"It's really a good chance for the local producers to get a high-quality bull. You know what you're getting when they've been through a test like this," said John Mueller, director of the Edisto center. "The test is designed to closely resemble what cow-calf producers do here, which has made it very popular."  

Top-performing bulls in the test gained as much as three pounds a day. By the auction date, the bulls were averaged 20 months old and weighed about 1,350 pounds. Most were Angus, the predominant breed for Carolina cattle producers, but the test also included Red Angus, Polled Hereford, Brahman and Gelbvieh.  

"This is a good opportunity for us to compare our genetics to other breeders in the state and to make changes as we come home to our breeding program to allow us to benefit the commercial cattle producer," said Frankie Mullikin of Mull Meadows Farm in Liberty, who has participated in the bull test for 20 years. "Cattle prices are up now, but our inputs — fuel, grain costs, fertilizer — all those are up also. So it's important for us to balance that out, and the way we can do that is through more grass feeding."  

"The bull test provides a level playing field. Buyers know precisely what they're getting," Campbell said. "By utilizing forages and taking the feed out of the equation we have cut the cost to the consignors almost in half. These bulls will be adding a lot to the industry in South Carolina because they will go back into commercial cattle herds."  

Learn more about the Edisto Forage Bull Test:  

See videos and interviews with participants in the Edisto Forage Bull Test: