by: Jacob R. Segers, PhD
Department of Animal and Dairy Science, University of Georgia
With the spring sale season on the horizon, it is time we dedicate a little discussion to bull management. Cattlemen, consultants, county agents and other specialists spend large amounts of time scouring EPDs, performance data, pedigrees and any other information to be certain they are procuring the animal that has the greatest potential to positively impact their program. Doing your due diligence in researching and visually assessing bulls before you buy is a great way to protect your investment. The often-overlooked part of the equation is how to manage a yearling bull after you bring him home. Many producers seem to be of the opinion that if they pay several thousand dollars for a bull, he should be able to do anything asked of him, and the fact that they are young is often taken to mean they are that much more durable. Both of these misconceptions lead to the stories we have all heard about the bull that "melted" or "dried up" after he was brought home from the sale and failed to cover all the cows exposed to him. The purpose of this article is to present some management considerations that might help prevent some of the post-sale challenges that many ranchers seem to encounter.
Many cattlemen opt to purchase bulls from either production sales or bull test programs, while others may purchase a bull private treaty. Regardless of which system is used to develop a yearling bull, there is a relatively high likelihood that your new bull will be coming from a high plane of nutrition. In true performance tests, such as those conducted by UGA and GCA, the objective is to compare bulls' ability to gain weight. To do this, feed is a necessity. Similarly, it is recommended that breeders supplement bulls before sale; research has shown that bulls with increased BCS (BCS 6 or greater) are preferred by buyers. This is not the fault of the breeder; it's just an economic fact. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that when a bull is pulled from a high-energy ration and placed on pasture with no supplemental nutrition, he loses weight. The nutritional transition should be gradual. A young bull should have a BCS of at least a 6 at turn-out. This will provide him with the necessary energy reserves for most breeding seasons. Even at optimal BCS, expect a yearling to lose 100 pounds over the course of the initial breeding season.
As with all cattle, bull nutrition is dependent upon body condition; but it is important to remember that a yearling bull has not yet reached his mature body weight and should be targeted to gain 2 to 2 1/2 pounds per day from one year of age through the subsequent breeding season. As an example, a bull that weighs 1,200 pounds will be expected to consume 25 to 30 pounds of dry matter per day. This can be achieved by using high-quality pasture, plus l0 to 12 pounds of energy-dense grain (e.g. corn), grass legume hay, plus 10 to 12 pounds of energy-dense grain (e.g. corn); or 80 pounds of corn silage, plus 2 pounds of supplemental protein. Complete mineral supplement and clean water should also be provided free-choice at all times.
It is important to acquire a new bull at least 60 to 90 days before turning him out with cows. This will allow for healthier adaptation from the pre-sale environment to the production environment. Before purchasing a yearling bull, give some thought to the design of the paddock in which he will be housed before turn-out. After a proper nutritional transition, adequate exercise is invaluable for a newly purchased yearling. Design paddocks so that bulls are forced to walk from feed to water to shade, etc. Providing adequate exercise without excessively cutting supplemental nutrition is paramount in avoiding the aforementioned "post-sale melting" that so many producers experience. This pre-breeding rest and adequate exercise serve to provide the bull with a chance to "harden up" more correctly before breeding season. Another reason to purchase your bull in advance of your projected turn-out date is to give adequate time for the bull to adjust to his new environment and feeding program; and if there are multiple bulls in use, a pecking order needs to be established prior to cow exposure. Try to ensure that all bulls are of similar age and size. Large differences can result in injuries and disproportionate settling of cows.
In the first breeding season, yearling bulls should be exposed to cows no longer than 60 days. This will prevent overuse, extreme weight loss, and reduced libido. If the yearling is the only bull in the pasture, just remember that in his first season he should only be expected to breed a number of females equal to his age in months; so if the bull is 20 months of age, he should be placed with 20 heifers or cows. Employment of these adaptation strategies should increase your satisfaction in your yearling bull purchase. If you are in need of new and outstanding genetics in your operation, please note that the 58th Annual Tifton Bull Sale will be held on Wednesday, March l, 2017, at Tifton Bull Evaluation Center in Irwinville, Ga. Also, please join us for the Annual Tifton Beef Cattle Short Course on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. Bulls will also be available at the short course for preview before the sale.
For more information on sire selection and post-sale adaptation, contact your county Extension office (1-800-ASK-UGA-1). For directions to the test station, test reports, rules, and a calendar of events, please visit or contact Dr. Jacob Segers at 229-386-3214 or Mrs. Grace Nyhuis at 229-385-3683.
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