Watch bulls’ condition, don’t forget to test them

Calving is just getting underway for many of our clients. The break in the weather has been great, but it is only early March. I am sure we will have a few more snow days. The bull sales have been going well and most purebred producers are very satisfied with the prices. Your bull battery is a very substantial investment in your cow-calf herd both financially and potentially. It is very important to have your bulls in optimum shape for the breeding season.

Whether you purchased a young bull or have bulls in your battery from previous years, it is important to evaluate his body condition (BSC). Your young bulls are still growing until they are several years old. This means they must receive adequate feed before, during and after breeding season. We all agree that we don’t want our yearling bulls too fat or over conditioned, but it is tough to sell a thin bull. Overly conditioned bulls tend to develop foot problems and may not be as aggressive during breeding season. If you feel your bull is overweight, it may be important to firm him up before breeding season.

Don’t neglect the bulls in the bull pasture. Some of them may have been thin at the end of the breeding season. These boys need to gain some flesh before turnout. We have seen come disasters when clients took thin bulls from their spring herd and turned them out on their fall calvers with little rest and feed.

Vitamin and mineral supplementation may be needed for optimum sperm production. Many producers are feeding distillers grains to gestating cows and bulls. The sulfur levels can be very high in these by products. It may not be at toxic levels, but sulfur interacts and competes with other minerals and decreases their absorptions. We recommend feeding organic or chelated mineral mixtures for optimum uptake and utilization. Trace minerals are needed for metabolic reactions and semen production in the animal. In many instances we have seen increased output in bulls injected with trace mineral/vitamin products. These enter the storage pools within the animal and are utilized as needed for optimal metabolic function and sperm development.

Every bull in your battery should have a breeding soundness exam (BSE) every year. It is best to screen your herd bulls about 45-60 days before breeding. We recommend this time frame rather than right before turnout because it allows the bull time to recover from problems and be retested if needed before turnout. This timeframe is needed for the normal development of sperm cells within the bull. Live sperm cells and good motility do not insure your bull is a good breeder. Your veterinarian or technician needs to examine the sperm cells for defects. Sometimes your immature bulls are unable to produce the proper percentage of normal cells. Most improve with age, but some bulls never pass. Sometimes older bulls develop penile and prepucial injuries causing them to be unable to mate. Other older bulls may also lose the ability to produce normal sperm cells. Just because he was great last year does not mean he is still productive.

Make sure your bulls are vaccinated with a program which coincides with your herd’s cow program. We recommend vaccination at least thirty days before breeding season. This allows the bull to recover from any reactions to vaccination and gives some time to develop immunity. Our routine program includes:

· Live virals with Vibrio and Lepto 5 way

· Anthrax

· Pinkeye

· Foot Rot

· Pour On antiparaciticide

When working your bulls examine feet and legs for problems. If they need foot trims, do so well before breeding season allowing the bull time to heal and regain normal function.

Your bull battery is one of the most important investments in your herd’s future. Be sure to achieve optimum production through adequate nutrition, timely supplementation, thorough vaccination, and a complete BSE. This preparedness will assure optimum pregnancy rates next fall and improve your herd’s overall profitability.