Proper winter management of bulls is important for having them healthy and in top shape for the next year’s breeding season. Ken Dunn, an Idaho Angus breeder near Tetonia, says one of the important considerations, if you live in a region with cold winters, is to recognize the potential for frostbitten testicles if temperatures drop, especially if there’s wind.
In his bull pens he creates mounds of piled straw. If you keep adding more straw to the pile, the straw mixed with manure tends to ferment and generate heat. “When we’re feeding our bulls through winter, they always climb up onto those piles to sleep. It is surprisingly warm on top of those piles. If you can do something like this, it helps the bulls stay warmer in cold weather and reduces risk for frostbite,” says Dunn. If bulls must lie on bare ground with no bedding, especially frozen ground, this robs body heat and increases the risk for frostbite. Having mounds to bed on is healthier in wet conditions also; the bulls don’t have to lie in mud.
He also has windbreaks for the bulls. Being a seedstock producer, his operation has a large number of bulls, including 175 weaned bull calves. The weaned calves are out in big pastures, with about 75 animals in each group. Each group is in a 30 to 40 acre pasture. They are fed on the ground, and spread out.
“We have a couple big straw piles out in a corner of each of those fields, for those calves to lie in. For the herd bulls, the ones we’ve invested a lot of money in, we have single, individual pens about 14 feet wide and 100 feet long or longer. Use of individual pens is mainly so we can keep these bulls away from each other and keep them from fighting, so they won’t get injured. We have two other groups of bulls, with four or five in each group. One group is in a 10 acre pen and the others are in a large corral,” he says. Bedding is also provided for these bulls.
“It’s always worth the time and effort to give them bedding and a warm/dry place to sleep. Mature bulls don’t need much more than that, for pampering. We don’t feed them anything but hay, through the winter. Some ranchers grain their bulls a little and I guess this would depend on the condition of the bulls. In some instances we’ve fed a little grain but usually we just feed good hay,” he says. A mature bull will generally regain enough body condition on good hay alone, after breeding season, before cold weather begins.
It pays to separate young bulls from older ones, even if you only have two pens or pastures. The young bulls that are still growing, or that might have lost weight during breeding season, need a higher plane of nutrition than mature bulls. “If you get the young ones out this gives you an opportunity to feed them a different ration, that the older ones may not need,” says Dunn.
It really helps if you can take bulls out of the cows right after breeding season, but not everyone is set up to be able to do that. “The earlier you can take them out and put them in a separate pasture, the better. If you can sort the young bulls out and give them a windbreak and straw piles to rest on, they’ll do much better.” They can regain condition before winter, and won’t be as stressed by cold weather.
“We’re on a mineral program year round, for our bulls as well as the cows, and we don’t change it for winter. We’ve found it really pays to stay on a good program year round. We’ve tested our hay and pasture and have a program that works well for our area, where we are short on copper and selenium,” says Dunn.
Herd health measures are just as important for bulls as for the cow herd, with appropriately scheduled vaccinations and dewormings. “Our bulls are on the same vaccination program as the cows. Everything gets eight-way twice a year and we worm everything in the fall. We treat the cows for flukes when we give them their Scourgard shot, and treat bulls for flukes in early spring when they get their spring shots. We do a pour-on in the spring, as well, just to help control flies,” he says.
“Our cattle all get a modified live four-way shot, before the breeding season. We treat for lice and grubs in the fall, using a pour-on, to get internal and external parasites. This usually works for lice through the whole winter, but on occasion we retreat bulls for lice before spring. We typically don’t need to, but if we do, we just use the squirt guns and apply a topical product while we are feeding. After we’ve put the hay out, while the bulls are standing there eating, we just walk up behind them and squirt each one of them with some of that. That’s a really easy method, since the bulls are gentle,” he says.
Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband Lynn near Salmon, Idaho. Contact her at 208-756-2841