DEMAND is red hot for bulls with low birth weight and calving ease traits to join to heifers this season as producers seek to rebuild herds as fast as possible.
It has seen heifer bulls average the same as lead cow bulls in some sales, even where they don't have the same growth and performance figures to their name.
As the trend ramps up right across the country, consultants and agents have urged producers to remember the progeny of the heifer bulls they are selecting are going to be future breeders. The genetics they source now will be built into their herds.
It's the ideal time, they point out, to redesign systems, to consider targeting new markets and to evaluate what suits country and markets.
But even where you are continuing down the same path the bottom line is that heifer bull selection should be viewed with a long-term perspective, not as a way to get calves on the ground as cheap as possible.
Elders stud stock manager for Queensland Michael Smith said while it was still early in the bull selling season in his state, heifer bull demand was clear, particularly in the Angus breed.
"The bull market this year has been a lot stronger than last year but there is a definite premium emerging for heifer bulls," he said.
"The same bull, suitable for heifers, that made $5000 to $6000 last year is now commanding $8000 to $10,000."
The bulls were overwhelmingly being sought for rebuilding and it was unlikely a flood of pregnancy-tested-in-calf heifers would hit the market next year, unless perhaps the season takes a significant turn for the worst, he said.
"People are wanting to retain those females and that is what has to happen for the long-term benefit of the industry," he said.
Along with the message about the ongoing influence on the herd, Mr Smith said one thing bull buyers should keep in mind was not to overlook physical structure.
With online buying activity so strong at the moment, the value of 'eyeballing' potential sires should be factored in, he said.
There are many tools alongside data to facilitate good bull buying and producers should utilise them all, he said.
South Australia's Nutrien Livestock stud stock manager Gordon Wood said there was a 15 to 20 per cent premium during autumn bull selling in his state for sires with good calving ease and low birth weight estimated breeding values.
That demand had continued in purchases throughout the year, he said.
"It's all been around the push to rebuild. People have retained heifers but they have also bought them in to push their rebuild," Mr Wood said.
"There is some speculation going on, in that the thought is there will be an ongoing strong market for PTIC heifers, but predominantly it's about rebuilding."
NSW family-owned seedstock operation Knowla Livestock at Moppy, near Gloucester, described the 2020 quest for heifer bulls as unprecedented.
A heifer bull made the second top price at their annual sale and heifer bulls averaged the same as lead cow bulls.
Knowla's James Laurie said the stud also sold a hundred unjoined heifers after the sale for a $2200 average, which he described as exceptional - and reflective of the desire in the beef industry to rebuild herds fast.
He believes a lot of producers went to great lengths to retain heifers during the drought with the rebuild in mind and the conditions are now prime for that.
However, he said what was different in this rebuild was that the notion a heifer bull has just one purpose is gone.
"People are certainly looking to buy better bulls to go over their heifers with the view to having them be part of the herd long term," he said.
"They want them to go forward and breed progeny they can retain and they are willing to invest to that end."
Beef consultant Bill Hoffman said the retaining of the bulk of heifer calves as replacement breeders to rebuild was widespread.
But herd rebuilding was not a quick process and the heifer calves born to bulls selected now will be future breeders - that means the influence of heifer bulls selected this year will be significant, he said.
"Therefore, as well as traits you'd normally put emphasis on when selecting heifer bulls, you need to be thinking about what you want in the future herd," he said.
"That means factoring in things like mature cow weight or fat or growth right alongside calving ease and low birth weight."
Mr Hoffman said when assessing a heifer bull physically, the shoulder structure was key.
"It's a bit objective but there is a lot of variation in that, and the need is to avoid bulls with a big spread in shoulders which impacts calving ease," he said.