Are Your Bulls Ready to Work?
After a busy calving season, attention turns to the breeding season and plans for the next calf crop. An important part of that preparation is getting bulls ready for turn-out, says Jason Ahola, an associate professor of Beef Management Systems at Colorado State University. He empha-sizes that bulls deserve extra attention because annually they can potentially sire 25 to 50 calves.
“One bull that is unable to breed due to soundness, body condition, or fertility problems can cause many open or late-bred cows, which impacts the long-term reproductive and financial success of an operation,” Ahola points out
.He shares these reminders for getting bulls ready to breed:
√ Aim for a 6. Bulls – particularly yearlings – should have a body condition score (BCS) of about 6 at the start of the breeding season. Assess a bull’s body condition at least 30-60 days prior to turn-out to determine what management action should be taken. If changes in nutrition are needed, they should be done gradually.
Thin bulls should be put on a ration with a higher level of energy to increase rate of gain. Ahola suggests a diet that consists of roughage at about 2% of their body weight (1,400 lbs. × 2% = 28 lbs./day) and enough grain to make the total diet consist of about 7.5-9.0% crude protein and 55-65% TDN (total digestible nutrients). Over-conditioned bulls should be transitioned to a ration that will help reduce their body condition to the target BCS of 6.
√ Conduct a BSE on every bull. Breeding soundness exams (BSE) should be conducted 30-60 days prior to breeding season every year for each bull. “Many producers will test yearling bulls their first year, but they don’t do a BSE the following year,” Ahola says. “A lot of things can impact fertility from one breeding season to the next, so it is necessary to do this every year.”
√ Offer minerals and vitamins. These should be made available to bulls year-round to ensure successful animal growth and breeding performance. Ahola says zinc is especially important to include (at 60 ppm) since it directly affects sperm production.
√ Allow for exercise. Keep bulls in pens and pastures that are large enough to ensure adequate exercise to help prepare them for the season ahead. Encourage exercise by locating feeding areas away from water. If all bulls are being fed at the same time, allow 24-30 inches of bunk space per animal.
√ Provide protection from cold weather. Prevent frostbite to the bull’s scrotum by providing a windbreak, shelter, or heavy bed-ding such as straw for bulls to burrow into.
√ Develop a health protocol for herd bulls. Consult with your local veterinarian to address yearly vaccinations and parasite control. Test for trichomoniasis if needed, and develop a biosecurity plan.