Courtesy Tom Troxel
Managing a bull on your property takes special considerations year-round—even more so come springtime. Cows bred this time of year will calve in the fall; those bred in the fall will calve this time next year. In the spring, you should focus on bull fertility for a successful breeding season.
If you haven’t done so already, have a breeding-soundness evaluation performed on your bull, suggests Tom Troxel, PhD, extension specialist, professor and associate head of the Animal Science Department at the University of Arkansas. Your veterinarian will check your bull for physical soundness and eyesight, its testicles for health and appropriate size, and the quality and quantity of sperm being produced. Ensuring fertility is essential, especially for small-scale farmers who have only one bull to service a herd.
In case of infertility, Troxel recommends having a breeding-soundness evaluation performed at least 60 days before the bull is needed.
“This should be done every year,” he says. “Just because the bull was fertile last year doesn’t mean the bull will be fertile this year, especially because bulls lose fertility as they age.” Fertility is also impacted by disease, environmental conditions and injury, putting bulls at constant risk for change.
Bulls’ nutritional needs come into focus for breeding season, too.
“Oftentimes when a bull goes into a breeding season, it may go off feed. You need to be sure the bull maintains its body condition,” Troxel says.
For beef cattle, a body-condition score of 6 is ideal for a breeding bull, which is described by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension as “high-moderate condition with considerable fat cover over the ribs and tail-head and firm pressure needed to feel the spine.”
Management guidelines for dairy bulls are lacking, says Carlos Risco, University of Florida veterinarian and professor of theriogenology. “Most of the information we have is extrapolated from beef research, and dairy bulls are not managed under the same conditions.”
According to Troxel, vitamin A, derived from carotene, is necessary for bulls’ reproductive health, too. High-quality green forages contain carotene, but forages high in nitrates, such as those stressed by drought or grown in high-nitrogen soil, can be deficient, so you might need to supplement vitamin A in a mineral mix.
While working around or handling a bull, remember that even if you’ve had it since its birth, a bull should not be treated like a pet. “Bulls are dangerous, and they don’t know their own strength,” Troxel says. “Even if you raise a bull and can walk up to it and scratch it on the head, its behavior changes come breeding season.”
About the Author: Freelance writer Lisa Munniksma is traveling around the world to learn about sustainable living, agriculture and food systems everywhere. Follow her adventures at www.freelancefarmerchick.com.