When the calf is born unassisted and we think it has the potential to be raised as a bull, the first check is to look at the mother’s feet and udder. If the feet are not perfect and the mother does not walk well then the calf should be castrated.
The udder and teats are each scored 1-5, one being the best and five being long, thick teats and a badly shaped udder. An older, well-performing cow with four good quarters may get away with a score of two, otherwise, a score other than one would result in the calf being castrated.
If the calf passes the above tests we would run the calf with the herd and without any special treatment so that performance figures are not distorted. Our bulls and their calves have to perform on the hill and force feeding will distort our ability to measure their potential to perform in this environment.
Weighing at 200 days will predict the bull’s ability to produce daughters with a high milk yield that will, in turn, give their calves the best start whether purebred or crossed.
Weighing at 400 days will give, along with the 200-day weight, the ability to predict improved carcas size.
A target worth setting is that the bull should reach 50% of his mother’s weight at weaning. If the adult female weight was 500 kg then we would aim for 250 kg calves at weaning. The live weight gain, from birth, should be in excess of 1 kg per day.
Larger scrotal circumference, while giving an indication of fertility, more importantly, will produce earlier maturing females. A spring born female weighing 400 kg at 27 months is ready to bull and will produce a calf at three years old, a year earlier than most heifers in the Highland herd.
Having survived the above the bull can now be appraised. Ultrasound scanning at 400 days is the most accurate way to determine the muscle and back fat but unless you are performance recording with Signet, is an overkill. Muscle can be assessed visually and fat assessed by feeling for the dimple in the middle of the back or excess fat on the tail head.
The breed standard is available on the society’s website and should be adhered to. Horns, in particular, should come straight out and then rise. Bulls with horns turning down will produce heifers with flat heads or, even worse, with down horns.
Length, rib, straight back and flat even, well-muscled plates are the hallmarks of successful bulls but at the end of the day, he must walk well, you must like him, he must be easy to handle and have a quiet docile temperament.