Bull selection, development, and management are all essential to drive the genetic progress of a cattle herd and to improve the annual calf crop. Much time and effort are expended to ensure that the correct mating selections allow for the optimal outcome during calving season. There have been multiple articles written by UF/IFAS Extension specialists and agents about bull development and selection. Today let’s discuss bull management, particularly management after the breeding season is over. I want to preface my comments with the assumption that bulls will be used in a defined breeding season. In some ways, post-breeding management is really just the first step in pre-breeding management. In his article, Don’t Forget About the Bulls – Pre-Breeding Management, Mark Mauldin, UF/IFAS Extension Agent in Washington county, explains more about management steps to be taken shortly before breeding season begins.
When you turn bulls out at the beginning of the breeding season, they should have already been properly evaluated and ready to go. This evaluation and preparation can include proper nutritional and health management, breeding soundness exam (BSE), general phenotype evaluation, and evaluation of feet & leg soundness. The bulls must be ready to service cows adequately throughout the breeding season. The age of the bull determines the number of cows that he can effectively cover during the breeding season; this should be considered prior to turn out. A general evaluation of the health and body condition of the bull during the breeding season needs to be a regular routine. These practices will help get you bulls successfully through breeding season. Once your breeding season has concluded, the bull needs to be removed; what are your options now?
There are a few options you have with your bull post-breeding. These include maintaining mature bulls, continuing to develop younger bulls, or selling cull bulls. Bulls can sometimes be thin after breeding season due increased energy demands. This is a good time to allow rest and recovery with an increased feeding schedule and confinement to a small paddock or pasture. Now is also a good time to work the bulls through the chute, checking for any lameness or eye issues, deworming, and a general health evaluation. Even if you plan to cull a bull, taking time to allow body condition to improve will add value at the time of sale. Bulls that you plan to keep should be placed on a diet with adequate energy level to allow for increased body condition. Low quality hay alone will likely not meet this criteria.
Overfeeding is not recommended, because excessive fat can lead to decreased fertility and unnecessary feed waste. Younger bulls, however, may need increased supplementation to support continued development and growth. This presents an excellent opportunity to work with a beef nutrition specialist to determine a proper feed ration. According to Dr. Rick Rasby, Professor of Animal Science at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln, “Two-year-old bulls should have more of their mature size by breeding season as compared to yearling bulls. A 1,700 pound 2-year-old that is slightly under-conditioned will probably only need to gain 1 pound per day at this stage in his life. To do this, active bulls may need 40 pounds of feed or more on a dry matter basis, of which 5 to 7 pounds should be grain.”
Depending on when your breeding season occurs, utilization of high-quality forages can reduce the amount of supplemental feed required for maintenance and recovery. All bulls should have a breeding soundness exam prior to the next breeding season.
When deciding which bulls to cull, several factors can play a role. One of the most important is fertility and libido. Did the bull actively and successfully breed cows during the breeding season? If you have a high percentage of open cows after the breeding season, the costs per cow significantly increase. The age of the bull can also decrease the effectiveness of his breeding ability. Increased feet & leg issues, reduced body condition, eye problems, reproductive injuries can all play a role in the need to cull.
Quality bulls can significantly impact your herd after just one calving cycle, so decisions before, during, and after breeding must be carefully evaluated. The longevity of a bull in your herd can vary depending on your herd’s needs, bull health, and calving success rate. Programs such as the Florida Bull Test provide excellent genetic and performance data for bulls that participate in the program. The Florida Bull Test Sale is held annually at the NFREC Beef Unit in Marianna, with the next sale set to be held on Saturday, January 15, 2022.