How to Choose the Best Beef Bulls – 6 Things to Look Out For

How to Choose the Best Beef Bulls - 6 Things to Look Out ForHave a look at the records first and select those animals which have the breeding values you require. Then go and look at the bulls.

Breeders making good genetic progress will have high culling levels and should generally only have good sound bulls available for sale. Unless one of your chosen bulls has obvious structural defects, give the records priority for selection.

This does not mean you ignore physical faults — but they must be genuine defects which will inhibit the bull’s or your herd’s commercial performance. You must make objective selections and not be influenced by what fashion or tradition says a good bull should look like.

Physical criteria

Bulls must be able to move freely. Unlike ewes, which seek the ram, cows will not seek out a bull: he must walk to them. Therefore feet and legs must be sound.

Check feet for general abnormalities such as long, twisted or uneven hooves, proud flesh between the hooves, and growths anywhere on the foot.

Younger bulls rarely show defects of the legs, but as they grow older, diseases such as arthritis may appear. By making a bull walk briskly over a concrete yard you can observe defects such as lameness, faulty action, or toe dragging (which may be pointers to future problems with arthritis). Many of these defects are heritable, so culling contributes to the overall physical soundness of the herd.

Reproductive organs

Abnormalities of the penis are either congenital defects, for example cork-screw penis; or acquired defects, such as an injury incurred during mounting which has subsequently healed but left the penis no longer properly aligned. These flaws may mean a bull is unable to mate successfully, but you can only detect it by observing him serving a cow.


Normal testicles are firm and springy, with both about the same size. Testicles which are very hard or which feel soft and spongy may indicate that the sperm-producing capacity of the bull is reduced. Within the range of physiological normality, sperm production is directly related to testicular size. A convenient indictor of testicular size is the circumference of the scrotum at its widest point.

Run the bull up the race and use a backing bar to hold him firmly in place. Move behind the bull and firmly squeeze the testicles to the bottom of the scrotum. Loop a tape measure around the scrotum, encircling both testicles, and draw the tape firmly around the point of greatest circumference.

The minimum acceptable scrotal circumference depends on age and breed and the number of cows to be mated. For both Angus and Hereford bulls the minimum acceptable size is 30 cm at age 13 months and 35 cm at age 18 months.


The epididymis is the sperm storage chamber, which is physically closely attached to the testicle. Parts of it, for example the tail (which is near the base of the testicle), can be readily palpated.

In a small percentage of bulls, the epididymis may be abnormal in size and/ or consistency. Such defects may seriously affect the bull’s breeding capacity. Get a veterinarian to examine suspect bulls.


Surveys indicate that about 5% of young bulls have poor quality semen. Some contributing factors are over-feeding (for example in preparation for shows, etc.), penning in a confined area during hot weather, and diseases which increase body temperature. Your veterinarian will advise you whether a test is necessary or worthwhile.

Serving capacity

Serving capacity is the ability of a bull to mount and serve oestrus cows. Physical defects which are not readily apparent may impair the bull’s serving capacity, therefore it is wise to test it. Important: Serving capacity tests must always be carried out under veterinary supervision.