Bulls…A Key Component


News Column
By: Chad Gulley
County Extension Agent–Ag/NR
Smith County

 The Bull, a Key Component

As the herd rebuilding process continues from the 2011 drought, many producers this fall may begin shopping for a new herd bull.  The importance of the bull in a cattle breeding program is often underestimated. A cow is responsible for half the genetic material in only one calf each year, while the bull is responsible for half the genetic material in 20 to 50 calves. The bull’s ability to locate cows in estrus and breed them is clearly vital to a successful breeding program.

Several things should be considered when purchasing the herd bull. One is visual conformation. The bull should be structurally sound and should be able to travel well on all four legs and feet. Bulls that are sickle hocked, post legged, and bent or knock kneed may develop soreness and may not perform well. Body condition is also an important trait to look for in visual conformation. A thin bull will not have the stamina needed to service many cows. An overly fat bull may also lack vigor and may not be able to breed up to his potential. Excessively thin and fat bulls also will have low sperm quality.

Another important visual conformation is to examine the bull’s reproductive tract. A Breeding Soundness Exam (BSE) is an important tool that should be performed prior to each breeding season at least 30 to 60 days before you plan to turn your bulls out on your cattle. A veterinarian can assist with this process. The veterinarian will examine the bull’s feet, legs, eyes, teeth, flesh cover, scrotal size and shape; perform an internal and external examination of the reproductive tracts, and finally evaluation of sperm for motility and normality. The veterinarian can collect a semen specimen and examine the semen to determine sperm quality and quantity.  No one wants to lose a calf crop due to reproductive issues that can be found in a breeding soundness exam.

Other important considerations are to vaccinate your bulls annually for reproductive diseases. Check with your local veterinarian for advice as you develop a vaccination program for your farm or ranch.   There are a number of reproductive diseases bulls can get so check with your veterinarian to establish a program for your herd.

Breeding pressure and usage is another key consideration. Typically, a bull to cow ratio is 1:25 but this may vary.  Some producers run young and old bulls together on a set of cows. This may not be the best practice since mature bulls are generally dominant, giving the young bulls little to no chance to breed. Separating young and old bulls also helps maximize genetic potential of the individual bull. Separating these bulls will also prevent bulls from fighting when cows enter the heat cycle. Preventing the bulls from unnecessary fights can also prevent injury to your bulls both young and old. Where possible, many producers will rotate bulls in and out of the breeding rotation. This will take some decision making skills along with some good herd management skills as well.

Estimated Progeny Differences (EPD’s) are also a tool that can assist as you purchase your herd bulls. EPD’s are an estimate of the bull’s progeny and estimates differ from breed type.  One EPD for one breed will not be the same for another. Depending upon your breeding program, EPD’s may help you in purchasing high quality bulls. EPD’s tell you the estimated expected birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, and milking ability for the bull’s potential offspring. Some breeds also put together information concerning ribeye area, cutability, total maternal traits, carcass quality, scrotal circumference, and pelvic area in the bull’s offspring. Understanding and utilizing EPD’s can be an excellent tool in selecting and purchasing herd sires.

Breed type also plays a huge role in bull selection.   Matching the bull to the cow herd for marketability, environmental conditions, and the overall management of the operation is something that should be examined as well.

As you can see, all these factors need to be analyzed when purchasing a bull for your cow herds. As mentioned earlier, the cow determines one half of the genetic potential of a calf, while the bull may determine half the genetic make-up of multiple calves. That is significant enough to do your homework when purchasing bulls. There are many special bull sales in the fall months across many parts of Texas. There are also many breeders that have a selection of good, high quality bulls in which you can purchase bulls directly from the breeder or ranch.

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