What about the bull?

South Dakota State University Extension   |   Updated: February 8, 2012

It’s time to think about getting the bulls into breeding condition. Start by evaluating their overall body condition. We need to make sure the bulls are in a body condition score of 6 (this is where there is enough fat cover over their body that they appear smooth across their sides) before breeding season. Depending on their body condition score, we may need to start increasing the energy density of their diet now so we will not be struggling later on in the season. A typical diet for bulls in good condition for the winter would be hay that is 8 to 10% protein and fed at 2% of their body weight. Yearling bulls are still growing so the addition of 3-6 pounds of grain and hay with a protein content of around 12% should keep them growing. Please keep in mind that low temperatures and windy conditions can easily increase energy requirements 25 to 30 percent above normal maintenance requirements. Take a few minutes and evaluate the bulls body condition, then develop a ration to ensure you are meeting their nutritional requirements.

The next thing on the list should be to make sure the bulls have adequate wind protection or bedding. During normal winter conditions frostbite is not a common problem with breeding bulls, but prolonged exposure to extreme cold and wind increases the incidence of frostbite and is a problem that must be considered when planning for the breeding season. Visual indicators of frostbite are swelling and scab(s).  Frostbite can reduce fertility. 

A breeding soundness exam (BSE) should be performed every year on every bull.   Just because he was fine last year does not mean anything this year.  Along with the possibility of sub-zero temperatures causing damage, bulls can get infections, tumors, and injuries which all can affect the bull’s fertility.  A misconception is that the purpose of conducting BSE is to eliminate sterile bulls. There are not very many sterile bulls, but there are bulls with reduced fertility. The BSE should be performed at least 30 - 60 days before breeding season. However, having a BSE completed earlier may be better in case you have to purchase a new bull. What are the possible outcomes from not completing the BSE? 1) Higher than normal number of open cows. 2) More cows being bred in the second cycle which could cost you 35 pounds per calf at weaning time. With today’s prices for September feeder cattle on the board, that could be around$62/head. 3) No differences in conception rates.  With today input costs, we can’t afford to risk open cows or late calvers. 

Many of us worry about the reproducibility of our cows where as a cow is responsible for one calf a year, a bull could be responsible for up to 50 calves a year.

Source: Heather Larson
North Dakota Stockmen's Association * 407 S. 2nd St. * Bismarck, ND 58504 * 701-223-2522 * ndsa@ndstockmen.org