Successfully transitioning newly purchased bulls

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By now the work of selecting the next generation of herd sires has been completed for the most part. Now it’s time to shift the focus away from genetic selection towards management practices to increase the probability that the new yearling bulls will successfully breed cows for a number of years. One of the major components of the cost of natural service in the cattle business is the useful length of the herd sires. The more years a bull remains productive allows the initial purchase price to be spread out over more calves. 

In most cases yearling bulls have been developed on higher energy diets than what will be available to them during the breeding season. If these bulls are simply turned out to the breeding pastures without being adapted to lower energy diets, there is a high likelihood of excessive weight loss and potentially a reduction in fertility and libido. This would not only impact breeding success this year but also the useful lifespan of the bull. 

Changes in diets should be made gradually. There is a 60-day period before sperm cells are mature, so avoid any drastic changes during the two months before the start of breeding season whenever possible. The concentrate portion of the ration should be gradually reduced in a series of steps until the desired level is reached. It’s important to remember that these bulls are still growing and to not restrict nutrient intake too much. They should be gaining 1.5 to 2 pounds per day and be in a body condition score of about a 6 at the start of the breeding season. As with any class of livestock, the necessary mineral and vitamin supplementation as well as a high quality water source should be provided.

Beyond the nutritional and dietary considerations of bull development, there are other factors that need to be considered as well. Breeding bulls will have a high level of physical activity, especially early in the breeding season, seeking out and breeding cows in heat. Allowing increased opportunities for exercise will help improve the bulls’ physical condition and stamina levels, which should help insure their ability to remain functional throughout the breeding season.

Many producers will utilize more than one bull in a breeding pasture. If the bulls have not run together previously, they will very likely spend time fighting to establish dominance or a “pecking order” rather than getting cows bred. Grouping the bulls according to their assigned breeding groups prior to the start of the breeding season allows those “social adjustments” to take place before breeding season.

There are also animal health factors that need to be considered. Breeding soundness exams (See: Are Your Bulls Ready for the Breeding Season?) need to be conducted far enough in advance of bull turnout to allow enough time to replace bulls that fail or to re-test bulls with inconclusive results on their initial test. Pre-breeding would also be the time to administer vaccines as recommended by a herd’s veterinarian and to treat for parasites.

Newly purchased bulls represent sizeable investments, not only in based on purchase price, but also in terms of genetics and in determining how many females are bred for next year. The decisions made now before breeding play a large role in determining the return on that investment and the future productivity and profits of the cowherd.

Source: Warren Rusche


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