Managing bulls after breeding season

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Geni Wren Now that breeding season is over, it’s time to think about managing beef bulls. Brett Andrews, Burwell Veterinary Hospital, Burwell, Neb., says at this time it’s typical for some of his Nebraska Sandhills ranchers to cull some bulls on age, soundness, and breeding problems. 

More producers are keeping breed and performance records, so if a bull isn't performing with his peers then he may be culled depending on the cash flow. “Although a poor performing bull negatively impacts the long-term cash flow, he may be kept due to short-term cash flow problems,” Andrews explains.

“Usually the only time we do any breeding soundness exams on bulls in the fall is if they are fall breeding or if they had a reproductive problem such as lacerations to the prepuce during the summer,” Andrews says. “And if it was lacerations we just extend them to make sure they healed with no strictures.”

Tom Troxel, PhD, University of Arkansas, adds that the conclusion of the breeding season is an excellent time to perform BSEs on bulls to aid in determining which bulls to replace in the breeding herd. “Bulls may need to be culled for failure to pass a BSE, lack of libido, injuries, poor vision, undesirable conformation or inferior calf performance,” he says.

Overwintering bulls
Troxel says herd bulls should be kept in a separate paddock or pasture away from cows and heifers during the non-breeding season with plenty of exercise room, protection from severe weather, adequate shade, access to clean water and access to a mineral supplement. Provide ample feeder space if there is competition for feed from other animals in the paddock.

In the Sandhills, Andrews says it’s important to keep bulls where shelter (usually trees or manmade windbreaks) is available for the cold north winds that can frost/freeze scrotums. “Also provide bedding during the severest cold or blizzard conditions so the scrotums won't be on the bare cold ground,” he suggests. “The producers who do this have very few permanent testicular injuries due to extreme cold,” he says. “However, I have seen bulls that were left out with no or minimal shelter and they suffered permanent testicular injury.”

Andrews says the fall/winter is the time to treat bulls for lice and deworm them as well.

A note on BSEs
Andrews says he sees too many young bulls that have been “semen tested” prior to purchase by his clients that heI can't pass on a breeding soundness exam (BSE). “Veterinarians need to do a proper BSE on all bulls, especially the bulls for sale,” he recommends. “Poorly performed BSEs only hurt our clients or the purchasers of the sale bulls and reflects poorly on our profession. If a veterinarian is in doubt if they are doing a proper BSE, then consult the Society for Theriogenology.”

When doing BSEs on sale bulls, please provide the purchaser with a completed BSE evaluation form, Andrews says. “That way, if the purchaser has his veterinarian do a BSE on the bull and it doesn't pass, then the completed evaluation form allows better decisions to be made about whether to return the bull or reevaluate him again in a week or so. Also, if a veterinarian is providing a completed BSE evaluation form, I believe he is much more likely to do a proper and complete BSE.”

Tom did a very good job on the stuff he wrote.  The only thing I would add is to manage the bulls like the cows, ie have them gaining weight prior to breeding season and to reach a BCS of 5-6 prior to breeding season.  I see some bulls with a BCS of 3-4 when they are brought in for a BSE and they are much more likely to not pass and all too often the producer is wanting to turn out in the next 1-2 weeks.  This is just simply not enough time to get the bull into breeding condition.

Management groups
Bulls may be divided into management groups in order to more effectively meet the different nutrient needs of each group, Troxel says. “Separating younger and older bulls may be particularly important in preventing injuries and meeting nutritional requirements. This is a good time to assess body condition scores on bulls to determine nutritional needs and tailor forage and feeding programs to ensure adequate body condition at the start of the next breeding season.” Overworked bulls can lose significant body condition during the breeding season and may require extra nutrients to get back into shape before the next breeding season.

Managing bulls properly during the non-breeding season is important because bulls need this time to rest and regain condition. “Maintaining adequate nutritional and health programs is a year-round challenge,” Troxel says. “Monitor pasture conditions and seasonal health concerns throughout the year and adapt nutritional and health programs to the changing production environment.”

 Read more about bull management here.  


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