BULLS were meant to work as yearlings, according to Erica Halliday of Ben Nevis Angus, giving producers more calves per bull, a lower cost per calf, and fewer injuries.
The added bonus is that they're significantly quieter and easier to manage, both in and out of the cow herd.
Mrs Halliday and her husband Stu run Ben Nevis Angus stud near Walcha, NSW, and have focused their operation on yearling bulls since the late 1990s.
They sell 80 to 100 bulls at their annual on-property sale, but also sell large numbers of paddock bulls, with northern clients from Rockhampton to Central Australia and south to Oodnadatta.
One of the biggest advantages of yearling bulls is fewer breakdowns, as they're lighter and more agile, Mrs Halliday said.
"They also have a proven longer working life and produce more calves over that lifetime," she said.
"Nature intended bulls to be used as yearlings and our clients find they are easier to handle both in and out of the cows and in the bull mob."
Temperament is a big priority for Ben Nevis, and the team regularly receives feedback about how quiet the bulls are, and how little they fight.
"Temperament is something we focus heavily on and breed for but with the yearling bulls we think part of their easy going nature is the fact that they don't get sexually frustrated as they are out working, while bulls that start work at two are in the paddock taking out their frustration on each other and the fences," Mrs Halliday said.
Yearling bulls are expected to play a big role in the herd rebuild, as more breeders retain heifers.
"Being lighter and more agile when they are first joined not only means less injury to the bulls but less injury to your precious heifers.
"Just because they are a yearling, however, doesn't mean they are a heifer bull as you need to look at their genetic propensity for calving ease.
"We have specific lines of yearling bulls suitable for calving ease that maintain growth on the other end.
"Yearling bulls also help in improving your generation interval and allow you to introduce the latest genetics earlier."
- Beef Australia 2021 carcase competition strikes into new territory
- EYCI breaks new ground above 900c/kg
- More than half a century of beef expertise on show
An extensive artificial insemination and embryo transfer program allows the Hallidays to breed bulls with optimum feed conversion for strong early growth and good fat cover.
"It is our belief that we should be working towards animals that do better on less and reach target weights with less days on feed or ideally off grass," Mrs Halliday said.
"This will lower costs and emissions into the future without sacrificing quality.
"When all bulls are treated the same we select the ones that grow faster, lay down fat quicker and marble earlier.
"Every winter in our high, cold country is hard on cattle and as a result of our selection pressure, we have moulded a cow herd that has a good constitution and plenty of flesh and doing ability."
It's important that animals are easy doing and lay down fat.
While EBVs are an important selection tool they need to be combined with the old fashioned ability to be able to judge maturity type, structure and muscle.
Using bulls with early growth, fat and marbling allows Ben Nevis clients to target a range of markets, from butchers and supermarkets to the Japanese B3 trade.
"The early growth rate comes from selection but it's also important to have the right maturity pattern and muscle to be able to hit those markets all the way through," Mrs Halliday said.
"It's important that animals are easy doing and lay down fat.
"While EBVs are an important selection tool they need to be combined with the old fashioned ability to be able to judge maturity type, structure and muscle."
Another bonus of buying bulls as yearlings is their ability to acclimatise to tropical climates.
"We have some clients who buy them and grow them out before using them but we have others who have just used them straight away with excellent results.
"We've seen them pretty ragged after their first season because they have a good work ethic at the same time as they are trying to grow out, but eventually they grow into a beautiful bull.
"It just takes longer and the bonus is extra calves over their lifetime compared to bulls that are first used as two-year-olds."