Caring for your newly purchased yearling bull
January 21, 2009
In the coming months, many of you will be purchasing yearling bulls (maybe you already have). The purpose of this week’s column is to help you prepare those bulls for the upcoming breeding season. Here are some pointers on nutrition and management to keep in mind as you bring your new bull(s) home.
Nutrition. Yearling bulls have nutrient requirements for both maintenance and growth since they must still grow and mature. A yearling bull will weigh about 60 to 65 percent of his mature body weight as a yearling. Therefore, proper nutrition is important as he needs to continue growing and gaining weight as he develops. Energy, protein, trace minerals and vitamins are some of the more important nutrients to consider. Consider all bulls, but in particular yearling bulls, similar to athletes in regard to condition. They should not be too fat or too thin when turned out for the breeding season. Either situation will result in bulls that fail to breed cows.
Yearling bulls which have been fed higher concentrate development rations should be gradually adapted to a diet based predominantly on forages. Make diet changes gradually over the course of two to three weeks to allow the rumen microflora and the animal to adapt to the new dietary ingredients. Don’t turn yearling bulls directly out to pasture without some dietary adaptation, especially when they have been fed higher concentrate rations during development. Abrupt changes will result in poor performance.
Feed yearling bulls separately from mature bulls if possible. Mature bulls have lower nutrient requirements than yearling bulls. If fed together, mature bulls tend to be more aggressive and get more than their share of feed, resulting in yearling bulls tending to be underfed. Prior to the breeding season, yearling bulls should be fed to gain approximately 1.5 to two pounds per day. A yearling bull should be a BCS 5.5 to 6.5 at the beginning of the breeding season. This will require a diet that contains approximately 12 percent crude protein and 65 percent TDN.
With free choice access to medium quality grass hay, about six to 10 pounds of grain will be required. In some cases, a protein supplement may be required to adequately meet the bull’s protein requirements. If you have better quality hay, less supplementation will be required. A good quality trace mineral and vitamin premix should also be offered as either a free choice salt or block mixture or as a component of a totally mixed ration.
Be sure to provide plenty of bunk space for the bulls to consume feed. As a general rule of thumb, 24 to 30 inches per bull is typically required. Remember that horned bulls will require additional space.
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Exercise. Young bulls do not need forced exercise if given a large enough lot or pasture area where they can get adequate exercise on their own. About two acres per bull is generally adequate. Exercise prior to the breeding season can reduce the number of fighting and riding related injuries that occur during the course of the breeding season.
Management. Spermatogenesis (sperm development and maturation) is a process that takes 60 days. In other words, an injury to a bull on March 20 which hampers spermatogenesis may not cause a problem with semen quality until May 20. Because of the length of time it takes for spermatogenesis to occur, attention to the finer details of bull development need to take place 60 to 90 days prior to the start of the breeding season. In periods of bitterly cold weather like we have experienced in early January, it is important to provide bedding and wind protection for bulls. Failure to do so will result in increased potential for frostbite damage to the testicles.
If bulls will be pastured together to breed a group of cows, it is better to let them establish a pecking order prior to turnout at the beginning of the breeding season rather than during the breeding season. Injuries can and will occur when unfamiliar bulls are pastured together for the first time at the beginning of the breeding season.
In much of the area covered by Tri-State Livestock News, snowfall has been above average. If possible, snow should be removed or bulls penned in pastures or lots with adequate drainage. Snow melt and spring rains will cause muddy conditions. Mud increases nutrient requirements (wet animals lose the ability to effectively insulate themselves). Mud also increases the chances of injury and the likelihood of hoof and foot related problems.
During the breeding season. Observe all bulls often during the breeding season. This is the best way to be sure they are free of injury and are finding and breeding cows in heat. The greater the number of cows per bull, the more important it is to observe them frequently. Increased observation is especially important in single sire pastures and in large, rough pastures where the bulls are expected to cover large acreages.
Be sure to have a contingency plan in case a bull becomes injured, lame, or otherwise incapacitated during the breeding season. On large ranches, you’ll likely have a backup or spare bull which can be used. However, in smaller operations, this is generally too costly. Most seedstock producers have a few bulls which can be used in the case of injury to your main herd bull. Don’t forget about good biosecurity practices in those cases when a replacement bull is needed.
After the breeding season. Evaluate condition, soundness and health of all bulls used during the breeding season. Thin bulls will require additional energy in the diet in order to regain body weight which was lost during the breeding season. Remember that yearling bulls need to be fed to continue to grow after the breeding season as well.
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