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Caring for Newly Acquired Herd Bulls

While the process of identifying bulls that fit your program and going to bull sales can be enjoyable, it must be completed by writing a check, and likely a significant one at that.  However, if an effort is made in properly adapting and caring for new bulls, that investment per calf sired can be reduced through improved bull longevity.

One aspect that impacts the bulls’ first season, and lifetime success, is how they are managed once you take possession of them. 

Communicate with the Seller

  • Determine Previous Plane of Nutrition.  Every operation likely has a unique program for developing bulls.  There is no reason to be critical of any type of development program, but it is important to note that bulls “tested” to achieve an ADG of 3.5 pounds or more will need to reduce energy intake.   This will require a transition to a ration balanced to meet the nutrient requirements of still-growing bulls.
  • Herd Health.  Bulls should be well vaccinated and treated for parasites prior to taking possession.  They will require booster vaccinations on an annual basis for IBR, BVD, PI3, and BRSV.  They should also be vaccinated for reproductive diseases like Vibriosis and Leptospirosis prior to turnout annually.  Purchasing virgin bulls eliminates the risk of bringing a sexually transmitted disease like Trichomoniasis into the herd.  Visit with your veterinarian for the details specific to your herd.
  • Breeding Soundness Exam.  Know the policy of your genetic provider regarding fertility testing.  Bulls may be fertility checked prior to the sale, following the sale by the breeder, or be your responsibility once you have the bull.  Either way it is important to make sure your bull is fertile and sound at least 45-60 days prior to the breeding season.  This will allow time for you to work with the breeder or another provider to get a suitable replacement should a problem arise.

Taking Possession of Bulls

  • Placing Bulls on the Operation.  There are a few considerations to make when determining where your new bulls should go.  First, and most typically, this decision can be limited by available space.  Giving them enough room not only allows them to keep their distance from dominant bulls, but exercise is an important part of the “hardening” process in preparation for the breeding season.  Plans should be made to ensure bulls achieve a body condition score 6 to compliment both fertility and libido.  If an individual bull is segregated, make sure other cattle are visible to him to reduce agitation and stress.
  • Nutritional Adaptation.  If you receive the bulls immediately off of test, it is critical we don’t turn them out on dormant forage with a group of bulls.  Maintaining high levels of fertility require that you meet the bulls’ nutrient requirements for protein, energy, vitamins, and trace minerals.  Considering that, start by offering them about 70% of the concentrate they were previously on.  Working with your Hubbard Feeds representative, determine what ration would achieve a 2.0# ADG to accommodate the still-growing animal.  Also, consider a pre-breeding vitamin and trace mineral program like your cows are receiving through that period.

Turnout Management

  • Observe Yearling Bulls.  Even if your bulls are fertile, we must make sure they can complete the process.  While managing yearling bulls’ nutrition and body condition will help with things like libido and activity amongst the cow herd, we must also make sure that they have the physical ability to mount and breed the cow.  It is good to note what cows are being bred and observe again in 19-23 days to make sure she does not return to estrus.
  • Manage the Breeding Season.  When you consider the activity level of yearling bulls and the declining forage quality available later in the grazing season, it is important we don’t allow them to get run down.  After a defined breeding season, it is in the bulls’ best interest to remove them from the cows and place them where they can recover and recondition for the next season.
  • Socialization.  No matter what group of bulls are turned out there will be some level of dominance established.  One way to manage this is by running yearling and mature bulls separately.  Mature bulls will obviously intimidate the young sires and hinder their interest in breeding.  Some producers will run mature bulls to start the season and replace them with younger bulls later on to manage the socialization, nutrition, and allow young bulls to further mature.

Review

Bulls require a significant investment, and this should be matched by our effort to ensure their success.  In review of the detailed points above consider the following:

  • Communicate with the breeder regarding the bulls’ most recent diet, herd health program, and fertility tests.
  • New yearling bulls should be given plenty of space to avoid mature bulls and to allow for exercise.
  • Slowly reduce the energy intake of performance tested yearling bulls to reduce gains to a 2.0 pound ADG and achieve a body condition score 6 at turnout.
  • Observe your yearling bull for libido, activity, estrus detection, and ability to breed cows.
  • Manage the breeding season of yearling bulls to prevent them from becoming run down.

Management does not stop after the bulls’ first season.  We should continually be attentive to their body condition, structure, foot integrity, and health.  Bulls should be permitted the same attention the cow herd has regarding balanced nutrition and offering high quality vitamin and trace mineral programs that improve fertility and immune function.  The bottom line depends on it.

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