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Keep bulls in breeding condition

While bulls usually have about 10 months of the year off, they shouldn’t be ignored

This past spring, a friend who runs about 300 beef cows spent about $60K on a select number of crossbred red Angus yearlings and two-year-olds. He had good luck with them during this summer’s breeding season, but since has literarily forgotten about them (and the rest of his bulls) for the next nine to 10 months. Unfortunately, I have met many people that do the same thing with their bulls.

The reality is that a good feed and management program is essential for beef bulls in the post-breeding season. It helps keep them healthy, in good shape and fertile, so they can get the cow herd in calf during the next breeding season.

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a calf and mother cow

Whether they remain on pasture or put into drylot, I suggest all post-breeding bulls be segregated into three different groups — yearlings, two-year olds and older bulls. Next, producers should conduct a walk-through and give a gross-physical exam on each bull from nose to tail. Thus, create a checklist for points of good sight (signs of injury or disease — pinkeye), mouth/nose and breathing, overall body conformation, legs and hoove condition, genitals and even a swatting tail.

It’s surprising what can be revealed during a bull herd walkthrough. For example, I knew one producer using a similar protocol who found two problems in 15 breeding bulls; one had a broken penis and another had testicular abcesses. Another producer I knew, discovered several cases of early-stage footrot. Yet another found a bull with a broken tail that explained its partial paralysis on pasture.

While such stories are dramatic and isolated cases, I expect most beef producers will likely observe a modest loss of body condition/bodyweight on all their working bulls. It’s usually in the ballpark of about 100-150 kg by the end of the breeding season.

Recover body condition

First action in post-breeding season management should be to either maintain or recover optimum BCS in time for the next breeding season, despite it being three-quarters of a year away. That’s because beef bulls are the most sexually active and fertile (highest sperm count and viability) when they have a body condition score of 3.0 to 3.5 (re: on a scale of 1= emaciated to 5 = obese) at the start of the breeding season. In contrast, skinny bulls with a BCS lower than 2.5 often have lower libido and sperm production. Second, we should also keep in mind yearling bulls returning as two-year olds need to achieve about 75 per cent of their mature bodyweight at the same later date.

Most of the post-breeding bull feeding and management programs I set up parallel these twin goals and are quite simple. They are first based upon the specific energy and protein nutrient requirements of returning yearlings (as two-year olds): 55-65 per cent TDN and 13-14 per cent protein and older bulls: 55-60 per cent TDN and 11-12 per cent protein, which encompass three upcoming time periods of late-summer to fall, overwintering and 60-day pre-breeding phase.

A diet for post-breeding yearlings may consist mostly of mixed-quality pasture or free-choice forages supplemented with a few kilos of grain or molasses blocks (pasture) for growth. More mature bulls (three years old and older) that come out of the breeding season in fairly good shape can be maintained on an all roughage diet of medium- to good-quality pasture or hay. Thin bulls should be fed some grain in order to achieve an optimum 3.0 to 3.5 BCS by the next breeding season. Some more grain in addition to meet recovery BCS needs will likely need to be fed during the coldest months of the winter.

Producers should also buy a well-balanced commercial mineral-vitamin product fed at 70-100 g (re: three to four oz) per head, daily, which are often called, “Breeder minerals.” It should contain adequate levels of macro-minerals such as calcium and phosphorus that complement the rest of the diet; namely the above forages and grains fed to bulls.

Furthermore, trace minerals such as copper and zinc, both of which have long been known to be essential for superior bull fertility (involved in sperm production and livability) and immunity against disease should be formulated into a bull mineral at relative high levels and be assured of a high degree of bio-availability. Selenium should also be provided at three mg/hd/day as well as recommended levels of vitamins A, D, and high vitamin E (i.e.: +1000 iu/hd/day). Finally, salt and a good source of fresh clean water should round out the bull diet.

Aside from a proper post-breeding bull feeding program other bull management is important. For example, treat any bulls showing signs of lice and mange with proper insecticides. Vaccination programs should be implemented, usually when the rest of cow herd is routinely processed. Deworming programs can also be carried out as well. Talk to a local beef veterinarian for recommendations on the best timing and options, respectively.

With this care given to good fertile bulls during the long post-breeding season, we really give them, the necessary time to recover from one successful breeding season and prepare for another one, next year. While it’s a shame some people (like my 300-cow herd friend) fail to realize its importance, they might change their mind, once they see their neighbours following a post-breeding bull program, have a cow herd with higher conception rates, more saleable calves and finally a higher revenue compared to their own.

About the author

Columnist

Peter Vitti is an independent livestock nutritionist and consultant based in Winnipeg. To reach him call 204-254-7497 or by email at [email protected]

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