Some of you are probably familiar with the phrase “The Running of the Bulls.” This phrase has Spanish roots and has its origins from the need to transport cattle from fields in the country to the closest markets for sale. Over the years, producers tried to speed the process by hurrying and exciting the cattle to market and it actually became a competition.
This process eventually moved to the bullfighting arena. Bulls needed to be moved from fields outside the city to the local arena for bull fights. During these runs, youngsters would run amongst the bulls to show their bravery. These runs are still traditionally held in Spain, Portugal, Mexico and France with the most famous event held in Pamplona, Spain.
Today, modern beef producers are certainly encouraged to use husbandry practices that are safer for humans and animals alike. However, I am going to encourage producers to undertake some physical activity with your operation’s herd bulls. For most herds, we should soon be concluding the spring breeding season and now is the time to be pulling bulls from the breeding pasture.
Regardless of whether you use a natural service sire or artificial insemination in your breeding program, there is little justification for a lengthy breeding season. A 60-day breeding season is an ideal goal to shoot for and I would recommend nothing longer than 90 days. I certainly would not encourage you to extend the breeding season into the hotter weather we can experience in later summer as bull and female reproductive performance tends to reduce. If you are currently involved in a longer breeding season, there are valid economic and management reasons to make a change.
Nearly every management decision associated with the cow herd is simplified with a shorter calving season. Herd health, nutritional, and reproductive management are much easier when all cows are in a similar stage of production. Restricting the breeding season to 60 to 90 days will produce a more uniform calf crop which enhances marketing opportunities. It is easier to match up your forage supply with the nutritional demands of your herd when all animals are in a similar production cycle. Vaccination programs are more effective when animals in the breeding herd are in a similar reproductive status.
A more concentrated calving season is important for the smaller or part-time producers who have major time restrictions in their daily lives. I don’t know of any producer that enjoys the stress and worry of calving season over an extended period of time. This is especially true if calving season comes during inclement weather and you are away from the farm for long stretches of time during an average day.
A shorter calving season will eventually lead to greater efficiencies in reproduction rates. Palpate shortly after the conclusion of the breeding season and cull heifers and cows that don’t conceive within your given calving season and don’t look back. Keep daughters of the cows that get bred early each calving season. If necessary, buy bred females that calve within your desired window to replace the open females. Implementation of these practices will certainly improve your herd’s reproductive performance over time.
As I have worked with producers over the years, a common theme as to why many management practices are not utilized is that the producer simply does not have adequate facilities to make significant changes in their operation. This is particularly true for the producer with a smaller herd as they often believe they cannot justify the extra costs of any facility improvements. In order to implement many improved management practices, a certain level of facilities is required to complete these tasks.
This certainly apples to bull management. Constructing an extra pen or lot could allow you to separate the herd bull from the cow herd to shorten the breeding season and reap the obvious management benefits. Cattle facilities do not have to necessarily be pre-manufactured or overly expensive but they should be well thought-out and properly designed. The Ohio State University Extension Beef Team’s web site has some useful information that can help you with facility design and layout. Check out the publication titled “Cattle Handling and Working Facilities”. It is located at: https://agnr.osu.edu/sites/agnr/files/imce/pdfs/Beef/CattleFacilities.pdf .
OSU Extension Beef Specialist Steve Boyles has developed two videos that describe best management practices for handling cattle. In lesson 1, the focus is on animal behavior and in lesson 2, the focus is on corral setup. The videos can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/user/OSUBeefTeam and also embedded below.