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Make sure bulls are ready for breeding season

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Good management is a must as bulls represent a significant investment in most cow-calf operations. (Photo by Todd Johnson, OSU Agricultural Communications Services)

The spring breeding season for cow-calf operations is approaching fast, meaning time is running out for producers who have not assessed their bull battery.

“It is imperative producers contact their local veterinarian and make arrangements to have their bulls administered a breeding soundness exam,” said Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension emeritus animal scientist and editor of the university’s popular Cow-Calf Corner newsletter. “Be sure to ask the veterinarian about the need for a trichomoniasis test.”

Bulls that do not pass a breeding soundness exam will need to be replaced before the start of breeding. Selk recommends purchasing the replacement from a production sale or nearby seedstock producer as soon as possible.

“It is good management to move the bull to its new environment several weeks before breeding,” he said. “If the bull has been consuming a high-energy, grain-based diet, this will give the producer time to gradually reduce the grain and increase the forage intake.”

The bull’s rumen will take some time to adjust to the forage-based diet the animal will consume during the breeding season, plus a sudden steep decline in energy intake could cause a decrease in bull fertility.

Bulls that will be placed together in multi-sire breeding pastures should be penned together for several weeks before the breeding season begins, as bulls naturally seek to establish a social order. Avoid mixing younger bulls with more mature bulls in the same pasture. Young bulls do not often win the hierarchy battle; because of this, they can become less aggressive breeders in future breeding seasons.

“Hierarchy needs to be settled before the start of the breeding season,” Selk said. “The first part of the breeding season should be for getting cows and replacement heifers bred rather than watching bulls fight each other trying to establish dominance.”

Bulls are a sizeable investment in most cow-calf operations. Common sense management before the breeding season can give the best possible return on that investment.

Selk recommends producers who have questions about best cattle management practices to contact their local OSU Cooperative Extension county office for assistance, typically listed under “County Government” in local directories.

Oklahoma is the nation’s fourth-leading producer of cattle and calves, according to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service data.

The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service is one of two state agencies administered by OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, and is a key part of the university’s state and federally mandated teaching, research and Extension land-grant mission.

By Donald Stotts

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