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Producers encouraged to begin making pre-breeding season preparations

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Whether producers have wrapped up their busy calving season or are in the full swing of things, they need to start thinking ahead and making pre-breeding preparations in regards to their bull battery, according to Oklahoma State University (OSU) Extension Beef Cattle Breeding Specialist Dr. Mark Johnson.  

In fact, with bull turnout just around the corner for January-calving herds, Johnson notes during an episode of OSU’s Sunup TV, aired on March 6, it is critical producers start preparing their bulls for their busiest time of year. 

Breeding season objectives 

To begin, Johnson explains there are three overarching breeding objectives for the majority of cow/calf herds during the breeding season.  

“First, we want to get as many cows bred as early in the breeding season as possible,” he says. “Second, we want to get cows bred to bulls with as much genetic potential as possible. And lastly, we want to accomplish this as economically as we possibly can.”  

While this triad of objectives is certainly important, Johnson says the first of the three is one of the most critical. 

“The result of getting cows settled on their first estrus cycle of the breeding season is weaning off heavier calves with more pay weight,” Johnson states. “In fact, the 21 days we lose if we miss the first heat cycle on a cow during the breeding season can result in calves weaning 40 to 50 pounds lighter than their counterparts.”  

“If we spread this over a few cows in our cowherd, the financial losses begin to add up really quick,” he continues. “Therefore, it is critical to address this first objective and get as many cows bred as early in the breeding season as possible. To do this, producers need to make some pre-breeding preparations for their bulls before turning them out with their cows.”  

Bull-to-cow ratios 

First, and most importantly, Johnson notes producers need to kick off their breeding season with a proper amount of bulls in their battery, and in order to do this, they need to understand bull-to-cow ratios.  

“It is important to think about what we are expecting our bulls to do during the breeding season, especially in terms of how many cows we expect them to settle,” he says, noting there are a few general rules of thumb in regards to how many cows a bull can cover based on his age. 

“We can expect a 12-month-old bull to cover about 12 cows in a defined breeding season, and an 18-month-old bull should be able to cover about 18 or 19 cows in this same timeframe,” explains Johnson. “Two-year-old bulls can be expected to cover 25 cows, and bulls older than two, up to six years of age, can be expected to cover 25 to 35 cows in a breeding season.”  

While these ratios are a good starting point, Johnson notes it is never a bad idea to have a few extra bulls in the string to replace any bulls who have broken down or been injured. 

Pre-breeding preparations 

In addition to entering the breeding season with the proper amount of bulls, Johnson provides a few other important pre-breeding preparation considerations.  

A pre-breeding preparation Johnson highly recommends is having breeding soundness exams conducted on all bulls before turning them out with cows. Johnson also encourages producers who utilize multi-sire pastures to mix bulls prior to breeding season. 

“It is important to mix bulls as early as possible so they are able to establish their hierarchy,” he explains. “If, and most likely when, bulls do fight and cause an injury, producers will have plenty of time to replace them if need be. Addressing pre-breeding injuries is much easier than those happening inside of breeding season. When this happens, bulls aren’t able to cover cows, which spells serious financial disaster. It is better to make preparations now, then to pay later.” 

Hannah Bugas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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