The Completeness of Performance herd rating system can help bull buyers’ sort through many breeders quickly. Sharl Liebergreen explains.

I am definitely drawn to the myriad images and videos on social media of rising two-year-old bulls being fattened for winter bull sales. Representing the best breeders can offer, touted with a short story, anecdote or simply a tug at the heart strings, they are impressive.

I wonder though, if we are still in lockdown by the time this edition goes to air, how will buyers and breeders manage buying and selling without being able to see these beasts in the flesh? How will the visual assessment of feet, structure and all-important conformation be performed if there is only a virtual drumbeat, and the well-trodden path of studs and cattle yards is subject to lockdown protocol?

One thing is for sure, not having to drive hundreds of kilometres looking for the next genetic improvement package could mean farmers have a little bit more time on their hands. Farmers may (and probably will) give the responsibility of securing future genetics to their stock agent. Farmers could, however, look for resources which are 100% free, to help them with the biggest decision of all – which breeder’s driveway to drive up, or in this case, whose website to ponder upon.

The Completeness of Performance herd rating system is one of those resources that can help bull buyers’ sort through many breeders quickly.

The system assesses the quantity of pedigree and performance information. Each herd receives a star rating on a 0-5 scale (including half stars) that summarises the relative “completeness” of their performance information”.

Yup, a star system for the recording programmes of beef breeders. Very easy to access in the inquiry search pages of the beef breed websites. And why is this important? – “one of the key factors underpinning the accuracy of EBVs is the quantity of performance information” and the more accurate the EBV, the more reliable they are. The more reliable they are, the more satisfied (from an EBV point of view) bull buyers should be.

So, if breeders are rated, and this information is freely available, bull auction average sales statistics would reflect this, right? Farmers would tend to pay more for bulls from breeders who can provide more reliable EBVs?

No, not necessarily. The Completeness of Performance herd rating system can help farmers identify breeders that meet their performance recording expectations, but I suspect it’s underutilised. It’s hard for breeders to record everything, on every animal, every single year. It might be more possible in a smaller herd, but smaller herds with fewer bulls on offer probably also find it harder to attract large numbers of buyers who are looking for larger teams of new bulls from one breeder. The auction ring relies on the fervour of large crowds (and wallets) to pulsate. It is encouraging to see the country’s larger herds tend to have Completeness of Performance herd ratings of 4.0-5.0 and when in full flight, their auctions are a sight to behold.

Understanding what makes a difference to the bottom line under the payments systems in NZ, combined with being able to interpret the variety of sales catalogues in advance, could lead to a commercial herd genetically outperforming those of some studs. The international distribution of semen via artificial insemination (AI) means the most elite beef genetics internationally are available for multiplication by breeders or (dare I say it) commercial farmers directly.

The Beef+Lamb NZ Genetics beef progeny test generated a raft of information, busted a myth or two, and it exposed the ease of doing AI at the commercial farm. Debate continues about return on investment but again, for those who are looking to innovate, AI is a real option and it’s a great way to offer something special to bull buyers on auction day. It places even more emphasis on complete performance recording to ensure progeny from international sires are thoroughly tested under NZ conditions.

Entwined in all of this is the amount paid for bulls. Is it high? Ultimately, it’s an open market and buyers decide what’s high and what’s not. Beef prices are historically high which is great, but the gap between the behind the farm-gate beef price and the average bull price is widening. Utilising the many free resources to help bull buyers decide what breeder to consider and what a bull is worth would seem an opportunity.