Observing Bulls at Pasture Back »

Checking cows is a daily activity during the summer which becomes even more important once the bulls have been turned out to begin the breeding season. Why? If a bull isn’t doing his job or if he gets injured while on the job, there needs to be a plan B because at the end of the day cows still need to bred. Monitoring bulls for servicing ability, body condition score and lameness issues come to the top of the list of what to watch for during the 60–90 day breeding season.

Importance of Observation

Before bulls are turned out to breed, hopefully they passed an annual breeding soundness exam (BSE), which gives the producer an indication that the bull has good semen and no physical problems or abnormalities that would prevent him from successfully servicing cows. But a BSE doesn’t actually tell us that cows are going to get bred unless we physically see bulls completing the job, which is why producers should spend time watching the bull detect cows in heat and make sure that he is mounting and penetrating successfully. This is especially critical with virgin bulls compared to previously exposed bulls that should know what they’re doing. If a bull is having trouble, he should be removed from the pasture so he doesn’t block cows from getting bred by the other bulls.

The physical activity that bulls endure during natural service takes a lot of energy. This is why we want to turn bulls out to pasture in good body condition and physical shape so they can cover breeding throughout the whole season. Having the bull battery stocked correctly in relation to the number of cows, experience of sire and size and terrain of pasture will help minimize excess weight loss. Yearling bulls will lose condition faster than mature bulls simply due to their greater nutrient requirements as they are still growing. If extra sires are available, rotating new sires in when condition begins to decrease may be an option.   

Common Injuries & Replacement

Lameness and penile injuries are probably the most common reasons that producers have to go looking for a replacement bull. If it is feet and leg issues, the bull can be treated or removed from the pasture to rest until next year. However, depending on how long he was in the breeding herd, the cost associated with maintaining him for another year may not be desirable especially if he did not mate many cows. Bulls that haven’t been together will tend to fight with each other to establishing social dominance which can lead to possible injury, but he can also injure himself while mounting or dismounting cows. Bulls that incur penile or scrotal injuries are less likely to recover and should be replaced permanently.

If you have a bull get injured and there is not an extra one at home, where do you get another one? Start by determining the salvage value of the injured bull and calculating what you can spend on a new herd sire. Although it may not be desirable to purchase a new bull so late, the alternative is more cows coming up open in the fall, which will likely hurt the pocketbook more. Contact producers in your area that sell bulls to see if they have any that did not sell or if they have extra bulls on hand. In addition, some operations with different breeding seasons (early spring vs. summer) may be done breeding and may be willing to lease or sell their bulls. No matter where bulls are sourced, they need to pass a BSE and if they’ve been exposed a test for the reproductive disease trichomoniasis should be done in order to prevent transfer of this disease into your cow herd.

The Bottom Line

If you drive out to the pasture and see a bull standing off alone and/or bulls avoiding breeding, they need to be removed from the pasture and replaced with bulls that can handle the job. This is especially critical in single sire pastures, as well as in any breeding pasture. Failure to monitor and replace inadequate performing bulls can lead to decreased conception rates and will have a negative effect on the overall calf crop.

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