A bull is kept around for one thing — to sire calves. For many producers, bulls also cause problems. They tear up equipment, fight, get in the way of your grazing system, get out and breed your neighbor’s heifers, etc. Let's look at some strategies to deal with these issues.
- Leave the bull out with the cows all year. Not a good choice. This will inevitably string out the calving season, which causes lots of other problems.
- Build a bull trap. A common solution. However, it needs to be large enough to hold all your bulls and allow some exercise, but small enough to qualify as a “trap.” Fences need to be substantial, electrified or both. You must consider water, facilities, etc.
Is that about all that can be done? No, no; let’s get creative.
- Lease or co-op bulls. The idea is to have the bulls on your place when you need them and then get rid of them when you don't. These arrangements are becoming more common. However, there is a potential risk of introducing disease problems into your herd.
- Have two breeding seasons. With a well-defined spring and fall calving herd on your place, you can essentially co-op the bulls between them. After the spring breeding season is over, turn the bulls in with the fall herd, which will be bred cows at the time. When fall calving starts, put the bulls back with the spring cows until fall breeding time rolls around.
- Select more docile bulls. Gentle, docile bulls will do less damage to facilities and each other. Consider both breed and individual temperament.
- Use fewer bulls. This doesn't really solve any problem, it just reduces it. Push your bulls to breed as many cows as they can. This will reduce overhead costs and allow you to get more calves out of your better bulls. Use mature bulls, keep them fit and in shape, implement a health program and have a breeding soundness exam performed before breeding season. The old rule of thumb is a bull:cow ratio of 1:25. This can be significantly increased if the above things are done. Also, use at least two bulls to a pasture as insurance in case one goes down during the breeding season.
- Artificially inseminate. This is another good way to use fewer bulls. We could have a long discussion of the pros and cons of AI, but I will just say I have never seen a bull break out of a semen tank.
- Have less stuff to tear up. With a good grazing management program, you will have less need for things like hay feeders and troughs. Work to eliminate non-essential equipment from bull traps, and reinforce the equipment that is essential.
"You should always use an odd number of bulls in each pasture. That way, when two are fighting, there will always be one left to breed cows." — Billy Cook