Bull management before and during breeding season can improve producers’ chances for reproductive success, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Jason Banta, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, Overton, said it’s important to make sure bulls are ready and in good condition heading into breeding season.
A body condition score of 5-6 is recommended before breeding season starts, he said.
“If they are too fat or too thin it can impact fertility,” he said.
Bulls also need to be on an appropriate vaccination program and treated for internal and external parasites, Banta said.
Four to eight weeks before breeding, consider having a veterinarian perform a breeding soundness exam on bulls, Banta said. The exam will determine if a bull is a satisfactory potential breeder. A semen sample will be collected to assess sperm motility and whether sperm morphology is good or shows defects.
The veterinarian will also palpate the reproductive organs to make sure everything is normal, he said.
“We want to do this a few weeks before turnout so that we have time to find a replacement if there is a problem,” he said.
Once bulls are placed on pastures it’s important to monitor them, Banta said. Producers should be sure bulls are checking to see when cows are in heat and that the bulls are physically able to breed normally.
“Additionally, any injuries or foot rot will impact a bull’s desire to breed and should be addressed immediately,” he said.
Banta said it is also important to keep records of cows that have been bred by a bull. Write down the identification numbers, and make sure the cow does not come back into heat.
“A lot of cows in heat at the end of breeding season is a bad sign and generally indicates fertility problems in one or more bulls,” he said.
Banta said some producers keep bulls in pastures with heifers and cows year-round, but that he recommends setting a fixed breeding season. Bulls should be allowed access to cows for no more than about 90 days to reduce the potential for heifer calves being bred prior to weaning.
“Physiologically, 6-7 month old heifers aren’t ready to be bred even though they may come into heat,” he said. “It’s best to wait until they are 13 ½ months to 15 months old.”
Banta said a fixed season also makes day-to-day management practices, such as vaccinations, simpler to implement because calves are of similar age and cows are in similar stages of production.
“Keep these management tips in mind as we get closer to breeding season because any problems could end up costing you a future calf crop,” he said.