Common Questions & Answers About Keeping A Bull

If you're still on the fence about buying a bull, check out these common questions and answers about keeping one or more bulls in your pastures.

by Ashleigh Krispense
PHOTO: Patrick Ziegler/Adobe Stock

Spring has arrived! The sun is shining, the birds are singing their little hearts out, and calves are bouncing around the pasture. Cattle head out to pasture shortly, and before we know it we’ll be well on our way to summer. 

In my last article, we covered a variety of questions that potential bull owners might have. Ranging from what buyers should look for in a bull and the best place to buy one, to how long a bull might last and the pros and cons of investing in one( as opposed to artificially inseminating their herd)—we covered quite a bit.

We’re continuing the series today with some more questions and answers from local rancher (and my brother-in-law), Kordell Krispense. If you’ve been considering investing in a bull and expanding your herd, here are some more things to consider:

How old should my bull be before I turn him in with the cows? How many heifers/cows can you put per bull?

According to Kordell, a bull should be at least a minimum of 1 year old before being turned out to service any cows. (Kordell prefers his to be at least 18 months old or so.)

Once a bull has reached 12 months old, it should be able to service one cow for every month of age, up to 2 years (or 24 months). While some ranchers will put a single bull in with 30 cows without issue, he prefers to put only about 25 cows to a bull.

Keep in mind that with a bigger quantity of cows per bull, the higher the chance of open (or unbred) cows at the end of the breeding season will be.

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Read more: Read up on keeping cattle with these book selections.

What time of year should you turn a bull in?

The timing of when a bull should be turned in with the heifers or cows will depend on the producer’s personal preference. Kordell mentioned that cattle have the same gestation period as a human: 9 months. If a herd were to begin calving in February, the bull would need to be turned in with the herd around the beginning of May.

Ranchers will generally have either spring or fall calvings (or possibly even both), and there can be pros and cons to each. 

Kordell shared that for calves born in the early spring, weather will generally be cooler and temperatures more consistent. But for those that choose to have later spring calves, you won’t risk the extreme cold snaps common earlier in the year. For calves born in the fall, temperatures can fluctuate more with hot days and cold nights, potentially causing pneumonia and stress for young calves, while some might find the warmer days to be more enjoyable for calving.

Do bulls need to be kept separate? Are they mean?

The temperament of a bull can range from animal to animal. While one bull might generally be mild mannered, another can act crazy and dangerous to be around.

Before you purchase a bull (if considering one from a breeder with a catalog), take a look at the docility number to help give an indication of its temperament. If you can, check him out in person and closely watch his behavior and for any signs of aggression.

Kordell says that if a bull doesn’t want you around, he will let you know! 

While more than one bull can be kept in a pasture together, it’s helpful to watch their behavior with each other. Kordell shared that if pasturing three together, in some cases two bulls will get along fine but gang up on the third one.

In a large enough pasture this might not pose as much of a problem. Just make sure there is plenty of room for them to spread out and space to get away from each other. At times, feeding in separate areas can also be helpful, as Kordell also pointed out that two bulls might gang up and prevent the third from eating.

Read more: Check out these tips for choosing cattle for your own homegrown beef.

Can bulls be around young calves?

In Kordell’s experience, bulls generally don’t seem to care much about young calves. He suggests keeping a watchful eye on them, the same as you would when putting multiple bulls out together.

Does a bull need different care from other cattle?

While their temperaments can be cause for exercising extra caution, bulls won’t generally need much different care than steers or cows. Their body condition will be important to maintain, especially before breeding season, and regular testing should be done to ensure that they are still good quality breeding stock.

Kordell suggests regular testing. If you intend to breed twice a year, your bull should probably also be tested twice a year. 

Investing in a bull can be an exciting step towards growing your herd. It’s good to do your research beforehand and, if you have a chance, find a local rancher to visit with and ask questions. Be careful not to jump in and purchase the first bull that is available, and do your best to make a wise investment. 

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