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Ranchers flock to ‘no-bull’ bull sale

Douglas Bull Test Station’s annual all-breed bull sale passes 50-year milestone

Where do you go when you want a bull, but no B.S.?

For 50 years now, ranchers have been boosting their operations’ bullpower at the annual spring sale hosted by the Manitoba Bull Test Station at Douglas, Man.

Owned and operated by the Manitoba Beef Cattle Performance Association Inc., it is one of the largest non-profit organizations dedicated to producing superior bulls and heifers for commercial and purebred producers.

Manager Ivan Ahntholz, who also works as a rodeo announcer in the summer, said that the bulls arrive in early October, and get their first weigh-in a month later.

Man wearing cowboy hat, talking on phone.

Ivan Ahntholz, bull test station manager aims for superior genetics for the commercial producer.
photo: Daniel Winters

All are fed a ration formulated to put 2.5 to three pounds per day on the average animal, and weights are recorded every 28 days until late February. A week-long open house period beginning in late March allows buyers to view the animals right up until the sale day in early April.

Anything above or below that can be attributed to genetics, and the spring sale is arranged to sell the top-gaining performers first, then the next best animals in descending order. On sale day, data sheets showing information ranging from the animal’s name, farm of origin, birth weight, average daily gain are distributed to prospective buyers at the auction.

“We’re looking for superior genetics for the commercial or purebred man,” said Ahntholz.

Prices this spring ranged from $2,000 to $5,000 with most sellers setting $2,000 as the minimum bid. Bulls that don’t meet the minimum price set by the owners go home.

Temperament is also important, and overly aggressive bulls are sorted out.

To get into the sale, the bulls must pass a semen and breeding soundness test conducted by a veterinarian, show adequate scrotal circumference for its breed, good feet and legs, as well as possess a reasonable temperament. Bulls are also ultrasound tested for rib-eye, lean meat yield, marbling and backfat.

Veteran Oak Lake-area purebred breeder Ron Batho was recognized at the sale for his long-standing service to the test station. First established as the Sire Indexing Centre in 1965, its first sale saw 55 bulls sold with prices ranging from $515 to $1,600.

Man wearing cowboy hat, smiling.

Purebred cattle producer Ron Batho says the better the bulls, the better the calves.
photo: Daniel Winters

“Back then, Herefords were the big thing,” said Batho, whose father Everett was one of the Douglas test station’s founders.

The first sales were conducted from bleachers in the great outdoors before a sale building and ring was built a few years later, and the sale day has seen everything from “dust, snow, rainstorms and weather of all kinds,” said Batho.

What hasn’t changed is buyer interest in verified bull power.

“People waited for this Douglas test station sale. It was the place to buy the bulls,” said Batho.

Over the years, trends have changed. The lean years after the BSE crisis in 2003 saw breeders rein in excessive frame size amid a renewed focus on feed efficiency.

At this year’s sale, buyers seemed most interested in “moderate-framed bulls to use on moderate-framed cows that are good doers that can rustle and hustle and raise a calf without a lot of fuss,” he said.

With cattle prices back at firmly profitable levels for the foreseeable future, Batho believes that the time has come for ranchers to reinvest in their operations.

“Bulls are a good investment. The better the bull, the better the calves,” he said.

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