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Off-season bull management aids breeding success

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This article originally appeared in the May 2011 Ag News and Views newsletter.

By the time this is published in May, most ranchers in Texas and Oklahoma will have already turned their bulls out to the cow herd for the breeding season or will be preparing to do so. With this in mind, we should be looking ahead to managing the bulls once the breeding season is over.

It is not uncommon for a bull to lose one to one-and-a-half body condition points during a tightly controlled breeding season. As long as the mature bull goes into the season with adequate condition, he should easily recover with very little supplemental feed for next year. However, if this is a young bull's first breeding season, he will most likely need additional supplemental feed to continue to grow and develop to his full genetic potential. These two situations can have opposing management scenarios since most people want to keep all bulls together after the breeding season. Mature bulls would be eating more than they need if they are fed to meet the needs of the younger bulls. In this situation, it is better to separate the younger and thinner bulls from the rest to most efficiently manage all the bulls. By doing so, the bulls that need more supplemental feed can receive what is necessary to continue their growth or regain condition.

A 2-year-old bull is still growing and developing into a mature animal; thus, he will need a higher plane of nutrition to meet his requirements. You should determine the total amount of weight that the bull needs to gain and how long you have before the first frost of the year. It is much easier to put weight on cattle in the growing season than it is during winter. In general, a bull that is on a quality pasture and high quality supplemental feed during the growing season should gain enough weight to stay on track for proper growth and development. Once frost occurs and colder weather sets in, intake will have to be increased accordingly. Remember that the goal is to have the bull in a body condition score of 6.5 at turn-out time in the spring. It is much easier and more efficient to get the bull to this condition while he is grazing on green forages and then to maintain that condition during the winter than it is to try to put on additional condition during the winter.

Don't forget about an effective herd health program for your bulls. All bulls should receive viral respiratory complex vaccine booster (four- or five-way vaccination; IBR, BVDV, PI3, BRSV). Vaccination against the Leptospirosis and Vibriosis diseases is also recommended. Additionally, guarding against internal and external parasites will increase the health status of the bull. Use a quality anthelmentic to control internal parasites. Flies, ticks and lice can be easily controlled with a combination of ear tags, sprays and back rubs. Be sure to rotate classes of active ingredients which will reduce resistance issues.

Finally, as a part of your post-season breeding management program, you should determine the number of bulls necessary for next season and identify a source for replacements. Quality bulls are typically sold in the fall before the breeding season to ranchers who are proactive. This leaves the rest of the bull selection for those who wait.

A successful bull program doesn't happen by accident and requires planning all year long rather than only thinking about your bulls just before and during the breeding season. Remember, your bulls are the most important employees on the ranch. Make sure you pay attention to their needs year-round.

Robert Wells, Ph.D., PAS joined the Noble Research Institute as a livestock consultant in 2005. He also serves as the Executive Director for the Integrity Beef Alliance, LLC. His areas of emphasis are forage-based beef cattle production and cow/calf nutrition, herd health programs, improving herd genetics, beef quality assurance, and value-added calf marketing programs. Wells grew up on a South Texas diversified farm and attained his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. You can follow him on LinkedIn.