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Managing bullers in a feedyard

Fortunately, bullers are mostly a rare, sporadic occurrence in western Canadian feedlots and backgrounding operations. When dealing with these cases bear in mind the economic loss to the entire pen from frequent riding. Because the incidence is so sporadic no hard research has been done as to exact cause but several factors are suspected. Many facts have been gleaned from direct observation as to cause and effect of chronic bullers.

Each feedlot can experience unique buller problems, which is why a customized plan to deal with it should be developed between you and your feedlot veterinarian. Bullers seem to have a higher incidence in larger crowded pens. We almost never see the condition in small pens of 10 to 15 head, which is why removing bullers to the chronic pen,is often a curative solution.


Crushing or abscessation resu-lting in inconsistent absorption of implants has always been implicated in the past. A great deal of time and effort has been spent in teaching feedlot processing crews as to proper technique. A number of implant guns now have retractable needles and one (Revalor gun) has a simple metal hoop which pushes the ear away, making it virtually impossible to crush implants.

Crews use alcohol- or disinfectant-impregnated rollers to clean needles quickly between usage and one implant even has the antibiotic Tylan incorporated into it. This has been proven to reduce abscessation and improve gains because of more consistent absorption of the required product into the circulation.

Every year it is best to review implant technique as sometimes shortcuts are made in the interest of speed. Common sense things like not implanting through manure, dirt and debris and using the proper location (middle third of the ear for all implants) are critical.

Inconsistencies in feeding times and crowding lead to bored cattle and the propensity to initiate riding. Be consistent in feeding, maintain functional watering bowls and allowing as much room as possible may prevent the flare up of riding behaviour.

Larger feedlots often implement three-times-a-day feeding. This minimizes digestive upsets and ruminal acidosis but a secondary benefit is reducing bullers. Bunk management is critical for various reasons but keeping the buller problem to a minimum is one.

There has been a higher incidence in the Holstein breed but this may reflect past husbandry practices with calves being individually housed for the first few weeks of life.

Stags or intact bulls are one of the single most causes of numerous problems in the feedlot, not the least of which are bullers. They initiate lots of riding. Conversely when they are castrated they may become the target of riding.


The numbers would be shocking if we knew the weight loss and injuries the stags cause in the feedlot. All feedlots try and avoid the purchase of stag and intact bulls but there are always some cases to deal with. Make sure they are castrated properly and most processing crews check closely for staggy animals. Deal with them as soon as possible as the best time for reintroduction is when the pen is being processed, moved or reimplanted. Reintroducing animals from the chronic pen or adding new arrivals is best done when the whole pen is being disrupted such as reimplantation time or during a storm. The idea is to slip animals into the pen unnoticed and not having the new cattle stand out as being different.

Some feedlots over the years have tried masking the supposed hormonal smell with a different smell like a perfume oil. However, my experience is this only peaks the cattle’s natural curiosity even further and riding behaviour may start.


Some feedlots have constructed buller guards so harassed animals can find some relief by running under them. This works for social bullers, which are less dominant. This does not improve the bulling rate but the guards may prevent injury. If the same cattle are always found under these guards they still should be pulled as feed and water consumption are greatly altered.

True bullers which totally stand to be ridden should be pulled and in most cases remain in the chronic pen for the rest of their days. These true bullers will do well in a small pen and can live out their days comfortably eliminating all the chaos they cause in a full large pen

Watch for the unusual such as hermaphrodites (intersexes), freemartin heifers (which may look like steers including having a sheath). These cattle can initiate riding behaviour. Pens of heifers not on MGA (progesterone product to reduce cycling) will of course cycle regularly. The problem here is differentiating normal cycling behaviour from excessive cycling you might get with a cystic animal. Watch for excessive abrasions over the back or apparent knuckling in the back legs that would indicate back problems. These animals should be pulled allowed to convalesce and may or may not return to the home pen.

As with everything in the feedlot good observation skills and attention to detail will minimize bullers and reduce the decreased weight gain or injury they cause to the rest of the pen. †

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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