10 Tips For Checking Your Stock Bull Ahead Of Breeding

Breeding season has kicked off on many farms, and with that farmers using a stock bull are reminded to monitor their bull.

Assuming an average gestation length of 280 days, a cow served on May 1, 2024, would have an expected calving date of February 5, 2025.

With the wet spring experienced this year, some spring-calving herds are considering delaying their breeding season to delay the commencement of their calving season next spring but careful consideration should be given before taking this step.

In a recent post on the Teagasc website, Teagasc drystock advisor Patricia Lynch outlined 10 factors for farmers to monitor to ensure their bull is performing correctly:

  • Bull Fertility Check: A bull’s fertility status can change, from year to year. It is good practice to have a fertility test carried out on the stock bull prior to start of breeding season. It is estimated that 25% of stock bulls are sub-fertile. The cost of the test is very low compared to carrying empty cows for the summer and test results are available to farmers before the technician leaves the yard;
  • Body Condition Score (BCS): A bull must be able to maintain body condition (ideally, BCS 3). The bull must be physically fit to serve cows for 12 weeks and have a long working life in the herd. Where farmers are buying a bull, farmers should find out from the seller what level of concentrates the bull is being fed and what vaccinations he has received;
  • Health: Consult your vet for advice on the health of the bull. Remember a young bull in his first season should serve no more than 20 cows;
  • Nutrition: It is important to avoid sudden changes in diet and not to over feed the bull as this can reduce fertility and can also lead to feet problems. The bull needs to be fit but not over-fat;
  • Visual Check: Before the breeding season, check the bulls’ feet and legs are good and take remedial action, if required, well in advance of the breeding season;
  • Observe: Watch the bull working to check he is serving cows correctly;
  • Rotate: If possible, rotate bulls or scan cows early so that an infertile bull or sub-fertile bull can be identified early;
  • Records: Record when you see a cow being mated and watch for signs of cows coming on heat repeatedly;
  • Issues: If a large number of your cows are repeating, you need to take action to find out what is wrong. You must be prepared to start using Artificial Insemination (AI) or if you have a second bull with another group of cows, he may be utilised to serve more cows;
  • Pregnancy Scanning – When it is at least 35 days since the last cow in the herd could have been served then you should consider scanning the cows. It offers many advantages.

Finally, it can never be emphasised enough that bulls are dangerous animals and caution should always be exercised when working near bulls.

Bulls (or cows for that matter) that show any signs of aggression should not be given a second chance and should be sent for slaughter.

When entering a field or an area where a stock bull is present, farmers should always have an exit route planned. Bulls are unpredictable animals and are particularly so during the breeding season.

(Source – Agriland – Breifne O Brien – 04/05/2024)

Factors To Consider Before Buying A New Stock Bull

This time of year sees many spring-calving suckler and dairy herds in the market for a new stock bull, and while some may have sourced their bulls for the breeding season already, others are still on the look out for a suitable bull for their herd.

Buying a bull is a big investment for any farmer and the bull selected has the potential to contribute up to 50% of the genetics on the farm, so will play a huge part in determining the genetic potential of the progeny from the herd.

When purchasing a stock bull, as well as the physical appearance of the bull, all relevant factors and available data should be taken into account and considered.

In a recent post on the Teagasc website, Teagasc Ballinrobe drystock advisor, Patricia Lynch reminded farmers of some key things to bear in mind when sourcing a suitable stock bull.

What do you want from your stock bull?

Different farmers want their stock bull to deliver different traits. Some farmers want a terminal bull that will deliver progeny with good beef potential while other farmers want a stock bull that will deliver good replacement heifers.

Some herds of cows will have a higher threshold for calving difficulty than other herds and this is also a factor to be considered.

The Teagasc advisor said that if the farm is not retaining heifers as replacements or selling heifers on for breeding, then the terminal traits will naturally enough be the main focus.

Lynch said: “If you are aiming to breed replacement females, then you will be targeting a balance of maternal traits.

“Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme (SCEP) participants should be looking for four or five star on either the terminal or replacement indexes or both. Also under the requirements of the scheme, calves born on the farm must be sired by a genotyped four or five star bull.

“Another factor to consider is reliability, the higher the reliability figure is, the less likely that a bull’s breeding values will change considerably in the future. It is even better still if a bull has their genomic evaluation completed at the time of purchase.

“One of the most important figures that needs to be looked at before any purchase is made is the calving difficulty figures. If you want a bull to serve all cows and heifers on the farm, then the calving difficulty figures are critical.”

The Ballinrobe-based Teagasc advisor said: “For first-time calving heifers, check the beef heifers calving difficulty figure of the stock bull.

“Ideally select a bull with a beef heifer calving difficulty figure of less than 7.5%. For mature suckler cows, check the beef cows figure. To reduce calf mortality and labour around calving, look to source a bull with high reliability figures on calving difficulty.”

(Source – Agriland – Breifne O Brien – 05/05/2024)

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