Great post! And insightful replies as well.
A great cattleman I respect told me years ago, Breed for great heifers and the steers will take care of themselves. To me, a ruffian from the edge of the civilized world, the key is consistency. When I go to bull sales, it is usually easy to pick the cream of each pen. Like others have said, many bulls oughta be steers. I like a seedstock producer to have uniform bulls top to bottom, through each pen. They seem to be pretty rare. But that same uniformity shows up in their cowherd as well and translates well to mine. Phenotype matters. Because usually it equates with quality. And quality cattle sell better every time. We have all been at the salebarn and watched inferior cattle walk into the ring. And we have all watched soggy, long, level steer calves make buyers bid. I don't know how heritable phenotype is, but things like bad feet and poor bags are, so it has to relate somehow. I look for the middle of the road EPD's and lean toward the maternal side. I want a bull from a great cowherd and family and from a breeder I trust. I want a bull that will travel and cover cows. Utah State University is in the middle on a study to predict the virility of a bull and attach an EPD to that trait. So then we could choose bulls that will go to work instead of laying around not breeding cows. And as a small operation, my budget is pretty small too. I cant compete with the big money places on the top of the sale order bulls. (I learned a long time ago I could pick great bulls, I just couldn't afford them)
But when you see a uniform pen of bulls from a reputable breeder, that's when I feel buying a bull a tad lower in the sale order is a smart buy. And its served me well. When I used to haul my calves to the sale barn, I had a 7 year run where mine topped the sale. That must mean buyers like what they see. My advice is to not chase single traits, concentrate on making great cows, look for uniformity and build relationships with bull producers you trust. Good luck to you Amo!