Investing in a bull at the autumn sales is likely to pay dividends later on says SAC beef specialist, Ian Pritchard.

"Why? Because it will allow him time to settle in to his new environment and for health and semen checks - remember sperm takes two months to mature in the testicles. What's more bulls are often cheaper to buy at the autumn sales, however suckler producers frequently leave the purchase until spring citing shortage of money – SFP not received, cost of feed to keep him all winter and lack of room. In some cases these reasons may be legitimate but often are not.

"Over conditioned bulls at sale can lead to problems with longevity and quality of sperm. High growth in early life leads to rapid bone growth which has not adequate time to strengthen thus creating problems in later life. This does not mean that buyers should avoid high growth rate bulls – give them time to mature.

"After sale, bulls need to be managed correctly to lose condition to get them into fit working condition rather than being 'couch potatoes'. This takes time. The rumen has to adapt to fibre digestion, so it is wrong policy to buy and turn out to grass or put straight onto silage," he explains. "Adopt a transition period – gradually reduce concentrate level.

"As for cost savings, a silage and concentrate ration will work out at £300 to £400 to feed an 800kg bull overwinter. The bull you buy will frequently replace another, so room isn't an issue, and he is likely to have been heavier and would have cost more to feed.

"Cash shortage? If you want to pay £6,000 in spring for something you could have bought for £4,000 in autumn then that is your decision – normally you would not do it in everyday life."

Ian adds: "Breeding bull production systems need to change. There is no need to produce over-conditioned bulls. EBVs are a great measure of breeding ability, condition is not. But until the industry changes, it is recommended that the bull is bought three or four months before needing to use him. Remember, you may get your bull cheaper than you think at the autumn bull sales."