It's that time of year we put our bulls on the back burner but we really need to pay some attention to the bulls out in the bull pen. Their overall body condition is the first thing we can improve on. 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 and if we start them on this plain of nutrition now 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 feed requirements 25 to 30 percent above normal maintenance 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. If your bulls do get frostbite (as typically seen with swelling and a scab) then a breeding soundness exam (BSE) should be performed 45-60 days after the occurrence. Even without frostbite bulls should have a BSE performed every year. Just because he was fine last year does not mean anything. Along with the possibility of sub-zero temperatures causing damage, bulls can get infections, tumors, and injuries. Another misconception is that the purpose of checking a bull is to eliminate sterile bulls. There are not very many sterile bulls, but there are a lot of bulls with reduced fertility. The BSE should be performed at least 30 - 60 days before breeding season. However, the earlier the better in case you have to purchase a new bull. If you do not test your bulls the worst case scenario is that you have an extremely poor conception rate. The next case being if a cow has a 21 day delay in breed back time it costs you 35 pounds of calf at weaning time. With today's prices for September feeder cattle on the board, that could be around $55/head. With the fluctuations in the market you can't afford to give up any weight.
A bull breeding soundness exam is administered by a veterinarian and includes a physical examination (feet, legs, eyes, teeth, flesh cover, scrotal size and shape), an internal and external examination of the reproductive tract and semen evaluation for sperm cell motility and normality. The vet will determine if the bull is satisfactory or unsatisfactory. At the time of the exam a vet will usually give all the necessary vaccinations (and sometimes a pinkeye and foot rot vaccine), deworming and fly control. All these things should be done at this time so the bull is ready to turn out for the season. The one thing that is not determined by the veterinarian is libido. Take some time at the beginning of the breeding season to make sure the bulls are interested in the cows.
Many of use worry about the reproducibility of our cows where as a cow is responsible for one calf a year, a bull is responsible for up to 50 calves a year.