Bulls are worth a lot of money. Yet, it is easy for cow-calf producers to semi-neglect bulls due to other concerns during the winter. This can lead to soundness issues the following breeding season, and that can hurt your bottom line.
Cows and bulls each provide half of the genetics in a calf crop. However, when you consider the 25 to 40 cows a bull should breed with in a season, it is easy to see that bull fertility outweighs cow fertility. One infertile or poorly performing bull can cause lots of open or late-bred cows in your operation.
Getting cows to conceive early in the breeding season is important to the financial success of an operation. It is particularly important for younger, smaller cows—they are more at risk of not getting bred. Having an increase in open and late-bred cows this year will result in fewer calves and a longer calving season next year, as well as calves that are younger, lighter weight and less valuable.
It is common for bulls to have lost 10 to 20 percent of their bodyweight during a single breeding season. As a result, bulls should be given a period of time to recuperate during the post-breeding season. Each of your bulls should be evaluated annually for its health and ability to breed. After the culls are removed, the remaining bulls should be divided into two groups, one with older bulls that have decent body condition, and the other with younger and thinner bulls. It is important to separate bulls into these groups because each group will have different nutritional needs.
The goal of proper winter nutrition for young bulls is to turn out young bulls at the start of breeding season with a BCS of 5.5 to 6.5. After the breeding season, young bulls will often have lost significant weight. They also are still growing and usually need to gain upward of 1 to 2 pounds per day during the off season to be in proper body condition by the start of the next breeding season. In practice, this means that young, or thin or high-risk bulls will typically need a forage diet that is about 2 percent of their bodyweight as dry matter. They should also get enough supplement to bring their total diet to about 11 percent protein and 60 percent TDN. This can usually be accomplished by feeding 5 pounds of
MFA Trendsetter per day. Most mature bulls in good body condition will be fine on a nearly all-forage diet. The exception is if they need to gain weight. But do make sure mineral and vitamin needs are covered.
A daily feed intake between 1.75 and 2 percent of bodyweight as dry matter is a common maintenance feeding level for mature bulls in good flesh.
Beyond feeding, the design and layout of a winter bull pen is important for offseason bull management. Make an effort to promote activity in bulls. You can do this by putting substantial distance between feeders, waterers and loafing areas. Protection from wind chill and severe weather is particularly important for bull wintering facilities. Extreme cold weather can cause tissue damage to the scrotum—this appears as discoloration, scabbing, and/or sloughing of the lower part of the scrotum. Frostbite to the scrotum can lead to permanent damage and a dramatic reduction in bull fertility. Frostbite can be prevented by adequate protection from extreme weather. Just use common sense: provide heavy bedding to keep them warm and dry; provide shelter and a windbreak.
At springtime it is important to spend time getting your bulls ready for the breeding season. Four variables generally affect bull fertility, these are:
• Testicle size/scrotal circumference,
• Semen quality,
• Structural soundness
One of the best things to do to get your bulls ready is to evaluate every bull one to two months before breeding season with a breeding soundness exam. Your vet will measure scrotal circumference, a collect and analyze semen and perform a soundness evaluation. Libido is more elusive to measure. An annual exam on all potential bulls is a very good practice.
It might sound as if I don’t think you are already busy enough. So I’ll just add that there are other tasks you should do for proper bull performance. Before the breeding season, it is important to plan ahead sufficiently so that bulls expected to share a breeding pasture can be grouped together beforehand. Additionally, bulls should be tested for trichomoniasis, vaccinated, treated for insects and have their feet and legs checked prior to being turned out with cows.