During calving season the bull herd is often the furthest thing from a cow/calf producer’s mind. But as breeding season follows quickly on the coattails of this busy time of year, being proactive with their care and maintenance will go a long way in preventing the costs of debilitating lameness, death loss and poor conception rates.
“It’s common for producers to spend money on purchasing bulls, but not spend a lot of time on the care and maintenance of their bulls. The focus is on the cow herd, especially during calving season,” says Dr. Roy Lewis, DVM, Merck Animal Health. “I caution producers that their bulls will need as much care throughout the winter as their cow herd.”
“Proper bull management, including attention to nutrition, reproductive soundness and feet are vital to maximizing the return on their investment and a successful breeding season ahead.”
Dr. Lewis advises the best approach and general rule for bull nutrition is to treat your bulls like your cow herd. They need minerals for fertility and sperm count, combined with a good amount of dry matter followed up with attentiveness to good herd health vaccination protocols and good parasite control.
“The main thing is to think early with the bulls,” says Dr. Lewis. “You invest a lot in the purchase of your bulls, so you want to maintain them longer – and keep them breeding. For feeding and maintenance, you are aiming for a three body score. It is the ideal body condition for the breeding season, because you don’t want them too fat or too thin. Exercise is important too. Ideally, bulls should be kept in a big field where there is shelter and water and one that demands travel for water and feed to help maintain their physical condition and feet.”
In fact, according to Dr. Lewis, feet are one of the most integral and overlooked factors in bull management and maintenance.
“One of the things that should be carefully looked at quite a bit prior to breeding season is their feet,” says Dr. Lewis. “I see many bulls go down too early in their breeding career due to neglect of their feet. Issues like septic arthritis, bad corns or sole abscesses – if you let these ailments go too long, it renders the bull no good and you have to ship him. This could be avoided with a little more attention and providing either preventative management and maintenance and, if required, treatment.”
Dr. Lewis highly recommends administering vaccination for foot rot prior to the breeding season. “Vaccinating bulls for foot rot gives the bulls the best chance at avoiding becoming foot rot lame in the most critical time – breeding season,” he says. “This vaccination can be done alongside semen testing in the spring, preferably thirty days prior to breeding turnout and once the risk for frostbite has diminished.”
BEDDING AND SHELTER IMPORTANT FOR BULLS TOO
Prevention in the pens or pasture also goes a long way in the maintenance and care of your bull herd. Proper and adequate bedding and shelter is very important for protection against harsh weather conditions, minimizing energy loss that can result in lowered body condition and frozen testicles, which can result in infertility.
“Everyone thinks bulls are tough and they can handle the adverse winter and spring climate that we have here in Alberta and they are pretty good that way,” says Lewis. “But they still need a spot where they can get out of the wind and have access to good bedding.”
Affording the time to ensure that bulls are evenly matched in your fields will also help avoid injury. This includes taking into account temperament and size difference. This is especially relevant for younger bulls, as yearling and two-year-old bulls are always establishing themselves. These younger bulls will commonly require a different feed program from mature bulls as well, as they are commonly in lower body condition due to their ongoing growth.
Thinking ahead with proactive and preventative maintenance throughout this calving season will give your bulls the foundation for optimal health and fertility – helping to keep them on their feet and fit for a successful breeding season ahead.
“It pays to make bull management and their care a priority,” says Dr. Lewis. “After all, your entire breeding season depends on it.”
Dr. Roy Lewis has practiced large-animal veterinary medicine for more than 30 years and currently works part-time as a technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.