Another Rancher’s Gamble – Bull Sales

Auctioneers, bulls, ranchers, food and often cold weather are all part of a bull sale. Each year ranchers have to buy new bulls (male cattle who have not been castrated) to put with their cows for breeding the next summer.  Bull sales usually take place in the months of October through March.

Sale-goers look at the bulls and information about the sales in the sale book. The cattle are available to look over before the auctioneer runs them through the sale pen.

Usually on the open range one bull is provided for every 25 cows to get a good calf crop. Sometimes extra bulls are put out with the cows to make sure a high conception rate happens and when the cows are pregnancy tested in the fall there is at least 90 percent of the cows bred.  A rancher can usually use a bull through the bull’s fifth year. Bulls need to be replaced when they are past their prime or if they get hurt and can no longer breed.

Looking at the bulls before the sale and visiting with neighbors and friends.

To buy the replacement bulls, most ranchers go to a bull sale at a purebred breeder’s place where the rancher likes the breeding and performance of the bulls.  The sale is an auction.  There is an auctioneer with ringmen to take the bids.  It is always exciting to go to a sale to see what they have to offer and see if you can afford to buy the bulls you like and want.

Bull buyers sit in the bleachers bidding on bulls to use for breeding female cows on their cattle ranches.

There are many things to look at when buying a bull. The conformation of the bull and also many of the genetic traits are important.  Conformation traits most people look for are: the muscle in the rear end of the bull, the length of the bull, the shape of the bull’s shoulders for calving ease, the depth of the bull’s body and the width of the bull. When cattle are grazed on the large grazing allotments with many acres the bull has to travel over, the condition of the bull’s feet and legs are very important.  The bull’s soundness has to be so a bull can travel the long distances and still breed the cows.

The different breeds have set up Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) on the cattle.  Some of the EPDs to look at are the birth weight of the bull as a calf, the weaning and yearling weights and ratios, milk the cow would produce, and growth.  In the high altitudes of the Green River Valley PAP tests are used to see if the heart of the bull can handle the high altitude. That is a genetic trait that will be passed on to the offspring.  Cattle producers are always looking for improvements in how we breed our animals so other traits are starting to be looked at as well.

The ringmen, auctioneer and secretary work while a bull is being sold in the ring. The ringmen watch the crowd for bids (usually placed by a slight nod or lift of the hand) and alert the auctioneer. The auctioneer keeps the price moving with his constant chants sounding from the microphone. The secretary records all the winning bids and collects the money at the end of the sale.

Each rancher has his own idea of what traits best fits this cow herd.  The bull sale is just another part of the rancher’s gamble.  Ranchers gamble on the weather for water, heat to grow crops, snow depths, calving conditions, etc.  After eating a delicious meal served at the auction, the rancher buys his bulls for the next year’s calf crop.

Eating lunch before the sale begins. At this and many sales, the local 4-H group will serve the meal as a fundraiser for their club.

From RealRancher Jonita Sommers –Pinedale, Wyo

Published by is a visit to the day-to-day lives of America’s original animal welfare advocates and environmentalists.

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