Bull sale involves high-tech business

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Ambush Rocky is a 700-pound black angus bull. He may seem like a simple animal, standing around, eating and mooing from time to time, but there's more to Rocky than meets the eye.

For the past few weeks, he has been surrounded by more technology than an astronaut in a space shuttle.

Rocky is one of the 60 or so that will be offered at auction at 11 a.m. Saturday at the second annual Northwest Colorado Bull Sale at the Routt County Fairgrounds. An opportunity for ranchers to build the strength of their cattle herds, the event contains bulls that have gone through numerous tests to find their breeding strengths and weaknesses. Those tests prove to prospective buyers what each bull can do for their herds.

Ambush Rocky belongs to Jerry and Judy Green, who live in the Williams Fork, south of Hayden. Prospective buyers will look at Ambush Rocky, like other bulls, not only for appearance and muscular and skeletal correctness, but they will look at a genetic report called an "expected progeny difference."

An EPD provides an estimate of the genetic value of a bull. An EPD can determine a bull's traits such as fertility, its offsprings' birth weight, its offsprings' weaning weight, how much milk its daughters can produce and tenderness of beef.

"It's getting so sophisticated," Judy Green said. "Not a black-and-white issue, though. That's why it's called 'expected.'"

"It's getting real complex," Oak Creek rancher Kim Banning said. "We then have to try to make it simple for commercial buyers to understand."

Ambush Rocky was a product of the Greens' breeding program, which focuses on producing low-birth-weight calves. Low-birth-weight calves are good for first-time mother cows, Green said. They have smaller frames, so delivery doesn't pose as much of a health risk for the heifer.

Some bulls are bred to produce calves with higher weaning weight, Green said. Its weaning weight is how much a nursing calf weighs when it is finally separated from its mother.

"Producers like more weight," Green said. "More weight means more money."

Differences in EPDs between two bulls of the same breed also predict differences in performance between their future offspring, according to the Colorado State University Agriculture Department.

Banning's black angus bulls are an example of that. According to EPD tests, his bulls should produce mother cows that will produce quality calves. He is bringing the consignor's maximum of four bulls to the sale.

"You can choose a bull for your specific desire," Green said. "Some are looking for higher EPD scores or looking to be specific in the line of genetics. Some are going strictly for rib-eye tenderness."

EPD tests and ultrasounds aren't cheap, Banning said. Together, they cost more than $100 a head. But the success of last year's sale makes it well worth it, Banning said.

"For the first year (last year), I was real happy with average prices and the turnout," Banning said. "I think as years pass, it will just get better."

At last year's inaugural sale, 47 bulls were sold to buyers from all over the western United States. Based on that success, the Colorado State University Extension Service, Routt County CattleWomen and the Community Agriculture Alliance decided to collaborate again for this year's sale.

Bulls will be brought in that Friday afternoon, and potential buyers are welcome to come and browse and talk to the consignors. At 5 p.m. Friday, roast beef and mashed potatoes will be served before Colorado State University animal science professor Tim Field gives a presentation on crossbreeding and animal identification systems.

The majority of the bulls at this year's sale are black angus, but the sale also features the red angus, Gelbvieh, Limousin and Hereford breeds.

For more information on the bull sale, call 879-0825 or 879-4370.

-- To reach Nick Foster call 871-4204

or e-mail nfoster@steamboatpilot.com

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