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Putting bulls through a post-season checklist

Find the ones you want to keep, and help them to recover

Checking bulls after breeding season can help determine if they just need rest or perhaps should be culled.

Planning and good observations are necessary when pulling bulls. They may give us a clue as to how the breeding season went. Because bulls are stressed during breeding season and have lost lots of weight, they are in a way a sentinel animal for disease and both external and internal parasites.

Bulls are now going into their rest and relaxation period for next year but several decisions need to be made. Are they going to be used next year or just fattened to be marketed at an appropriate time? Do they have any nagging injuries or issues that need attention before they are put in the bullpen? You paid good money for your herd sires and it is an investment worth protecting. Also, reintroducing bulls to each other comes with its own set of problems. Those bulls coming out of a single sire-mating pen will need to get accustomed to their new roommates.

Most good breeding bulls will come off underweight in a confined breeding season, which is often a good sign they have been actively breeding. Those in immaculate condition often make me wonder if any breeding was getting done. Conversely, those that lose a tremendous amount of weight make you wonder if they were overly aggressive breeders or spent too much time fighting in a multi-sire pasture.

Since bulls are being pulled and often transported, now is the ideal time to check them. Closely examine the underbelly for swellings around the sheath, penis or testicles. Minor swelling may indicate a cut penis, which may indicate a problem for next year. Any bulls with severely swollen or degenerated testicles should be checked for fertility after a few weeks’ convalescence. In some cases identifying a problem may lead to a treatment option or avoiding feeding the bull all winter only to find him infertile in the spring semen-check. Any penile ulcers, cuts, or scarring of the penis or adhesions from a tough breeding season can be dealt with. If it’s a permanent condition the bull can be shipped.

The feet and legs including hoofs should be at least visually checked for any conditions that need treatment or corrective trimming. Lameness and injury are two of the most common causes of culling bulls. Again there is no point feeding a bull all winter simply to cull him in the spring. Conversely, attending to feet problems early or treating and allowing a bull to convalesce from an injury or treating with appropriate anti-inflammatory drugs in a timely fashion may allow another year’s usage.

Allow bulls to get socialized

Try and introduce bulls to each other at the same time but let them slowly find each other. You may know from past history bulls that get along with each other. Bulls have been culled simply because they disturbed the peace and are troublemakers. That aggressiveness will not go away. Others are extremely good at inflicting injury to other bulls, so they again may not be worth keeping around.

Previous health concerns or inability to maintain weight may be other culling reasons. Sometimes a blood test may be necessary if we think internal infection such as peritonitis, kidney issues or liver damage might be an issue. Some producers use foot rot clostridial and respiratory viral vaccines, fly control, and deworming products at semen-testing time as health prevention measures. Check with your veterinarian which preventative strategies are relevant in your area. By being proactive with an eye on prevention and housing bulls properly, you are helping to ensure more will come out of the winter in good shape to pass their breeding soundness exams.

Conditions such as corns on one foot can be surgically corrected. If your veterinarian prescribes treatment, remember that many anti-microbials can be put in grain, and some anti-inflammatory drugs given orally in feed or poured on the back. Dewormers can be given in the feed or through minerals under prescription.

There are many management preventions which can be given to bulls without having to handle them. Don’t forget about and neglect your bull battery — next spring will come quickly enough.

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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