Smith County Extension Agent
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 thin bull will not have the stamina needed to service many cows. An overly fat bull also may 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 is an important tool that should be performed before 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 reproductive diseases bulls can contract, 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.
Estimated Progeny Differences also are a tool that can assist as you purchase your herd bulls. EPDs are an estimate of the bull’s progeny and estimates differ from breed type. An EPD for one breed will not be the same for another.
Depending upon your breeding program, EPDs may help you in purchasing high-quality bulls. EPDs 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 EPDs 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 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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