St. Joseph, MO — It’s easy to forget about the bulls when you are a cow-calf producer. Usually, they are only actively working a few months each year, so it's tempting to put their health needs on the back burner. However, a successful breeding season depends on healthy bulls.
According to Dr. Doug Ensley, Professional Services Veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., it is important to make sure bulls are ready for the breeding season. “When your goal is to get as many cows as possible bred early in the breeding season, it is critical for bulls to be in the right body condition and protected against disease challenges before turning them in with the cows,” he says.
Dr. Ensley recommends conducting the following examinations on bulls at least six weeks before breeding season:
- A complete breeding-soundness exam: Palpate the testicles and measure the scrotum; check sperm motility, shape and structure; check for deformities or injury of the penis; and palpate reproductive organs.
- Trichomoniasis testing: Especially important for non-virgin bulls in areas of the country where trich has been detected.
- Eyes: Examine eyes closely for any lesions or damage.
- Feet and legs: Inspect feet for long toes or damage. Do hoof trimming well in advance of breeding season so hooves are healed and ready to go. Make sure bulls move soundly without any lameness.
Dr. Ensley suggests vaccinating bulls for leptospirosis, IBR, vibrio and BVD Types 1 and 2, 30 days prior to the breeding season. “You should vaccinate your bulls with the same pre-breeding vaccinations that you would give your cow herd,” he says. “A bull comes into contact with numerous cows during the breeding season; you don’t want him spreading disease.”
Dr. Ensley advises using a pinkeye vaccine in herds with a history of pinkeye or in pinkeye-endemic areas. He also recommends a seven-way clostridial vaccine in young bulls.
Parasite control is another important step in preparing bulls for a successful breeding season. Because of the amount of energy that bulls use during a busy breeding season, they are more susceptible to parasites, explains Dr. Ensley. Producers should ensure bulls are treated with a pour-on that has proven efficacy and persistency against internal and external parasites.
Post-Breeding Season Care
It’s important to ensure bulls are cared for when you take them away from the cows. Dr. Ensley points out that bulls need to be on a good nutrition plan during the rest period. “Bulls use a lot of energy during the breeding season and usually lose weight,” he continues. “They need to be put on good pasture and supplemented as necessary to get them on the best nutritional plan and ready for the next breeding season.”
Dr. Ensley recommends producers review the bull battery carefully for the following:
- Lameness: Check for feet and leg issues.
- Eye lesions: Check eyes for lesions; treat or cull if necessary.
- Penile injuries.
He also says producers should note body condition scores. The body condition of the bulls post breeding may be a good indicator of what happened during the season, adds Dr. Ensley. If bulls are in poor body condition, it may be an indicator that something is going on in the cow herd that prevented an early-season breed-up, and the cows are still cycling at the end of breeding season.
“The rest period is important for bulls because they are making semen during that time,” emphasizes Dr. Ensley. “The quality of treatment during the off-season will impact the next breeding season.”
Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. (St. Joseph, MO) is a subsidiary of Boehringer Ingelheim Corporation, based in Ridgefield, CT, and a member of the Boehringer Ingelheim group of companies.