Extension specialist shares maintenance is the basis for bull management
“The bull is arguably the most important investment a producer can make. While a cow is responsible for a single calf every year to earn her keep, the bull must breed upwards of 25 cows,” says Montana’s Extension Beef Specialist Megan Van Emon. Van Emon stresses the importance of maintaining bulls throughout the year to ensure they are ready for the stressful breeding season.
“In general, people need to think about feet and leg structure, which has been an issue the last 10 years or so,” Van Emon says. “These bulls have to cover a lot of ground, so making sure they have sound feet and legs so they can put on miles and walk the terrain we have in the mountains west is critical.”
While she notes EPDs can be useful for producers at sales, she warns bull buyers not to get too wrapped up in choosing bulls solely on EPDs.
“EPDs are a great thing but we need to remember bulls at sale are young and don’t have a lot, if any, progeny,” she says. “I like to look at them and get an idea of what I want. I then go in and look at the bulls’ own birth, weaning and yearling weights because this can give a good idea of what those calves are going to look like.”
“I like to use them as a guide but not an end all be all,” she adds.
Van Emon notes she is a big fan of using phenotype as a selection tool for bulls, but warns fleshy sale bulls should be backed down slowly from their typical presale nutrition plan.
“Sale bulls are usually super fleshy and it helps them sell, not just the numbers,” she explains. “But I think the biggest issue with this is producers in this region are not breeding on a drylot, they are often in huge pastures.”
She continues, “As soon as you get them home, start stepping them back in nutrition and keep them at a body condition score (BCS) of five or six as they go back out, and prepare them to be on a similar nutrition plane as the cows.
Van Emon notes if bulls go out at a BCS of seven or eight they will decline rapidly and won’t be able to cover the miles to keep up with cows to breed, resulting in low conception and pregnancy rates.
“Bulls need to be in good body condition to maintain sperm production, which is a 60-day process,” she explains. “When we get them home from a sale where they had a very nutrient rich diet and crash them out, the sperm they produce during this time may not be as viable.”
She notes due to the 60-day nature of sperm cycles, these issues are not immediately apparent to producers.
“When we crash them out too fast or drop them on a different plane of nutrition, it’s not going to be an issue right away, but will be a problem towards the end of the 60-day sperm production process.”
She recommends producers find out what the sellers were feeding prior to the sale and mimic it at home. By gradually backing them down from a high nutrition diet, they won’t have such a shock to their system and their semen quality won’t suffer.
Off season management
“Often times, bulls are out for 90 days for the breeding season and then they get put in a back corner with poor nutrients and kind of forgotten about,” she says. “Ranchers get in a mindset of forgetting their bulls when they are not out with cows, but maintaining body condition is extremely important for preserving bulls in the long term.”
She notes a simple maintenance diet will prevent ranchers from having to rapidly rebuild their body condition in preparation for breeding season. Large changes in their body condition over time will cause stress, which causes a decline in sperm quality. Van Emon stresses consistent body condition is critical.
“Bull nutrition does not have to be fancy or complicated,” she stresses. “They do not need dairy quality hay and alfalfa or expensive grains. The same grass hay we feed the cows is sufficient in maintaining bulls’ body condition throughout the year.”
Callie Hanson is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org