by: Clifford Mitchell

Good management can come with different techniques and styles. Scenarios for sound philosophies differ from place to place and operators must use knowledge to sometimes take extra steps in preparation for success. Managing the bull battery can be a complicated task.

Introducing new herd bulls also comes with its own challenges and commercial cattlemen have many choices when it comes to the next generation sire. Questions that need to be answered deal with the overall goals of the operation to find bulls that will meet the demands of today's industry. In the decision process, most producers will debate many things, ultimately deciding where their best value is.

The selection process often comes with a checklist, but most cattlemen will look to find bulls that fit their management strategy. Yearling bulls work in programs that are geared to handle them. Younger bulls come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages just like any other decision made during the management process. There is a learning curve associated with handling younger bull power.

“With yearling bulls it's an education process of how to handle them. Don't over do it that first breeding season or turn yearlings out with older bulls. Give them some extra nutrition when you pull them off the cows to rest,” says Mike Hall, Beef Cattle Specialist, Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo.

“We tell customers to manage those yearlings with a lot of common sense. You can't turn those younger bulls out for 90 days and forget about them,” says Kevin Borror, Tehama Angus Ranch, Gerber.

Beef producers have had to adapt management style to fit the challenge, becoming specialists in certain parts of the operation to keep things running smoothly. Managing those yearlings during the first breeding season requires precision.

“Try to pull those younger bulls after 30 days. Around 65 or 70 percent of those cows will be bred back at that time and let some older bulls finish up the breeding season,” Borror says. “You have to keep an eye on those bulls. They need rest after that first season so they are ready to go next year.”

“Yearling bulls require more hands-on observation. Make sure he's doing his job and keep track if cows are coming back into heat. It's very costly if cows aren't getting bred,” Hall says. “Thirty five to 40 days is about the right amount of time for yearlings to be with the cows and don't expect that yearling to cover as many cows as the older bulls.”

There is no set recipe for that first season, but operators may rely on common sense and the lay of the land to set them up for success. Expecting too much from these young sires could impact the bottom line.

“Rotate those bulls, learn how to do it and get them out of the cows at the proper time. Other management tools like a defined calving season will help better manage these new sires. Producers, who are at the top of their game understand the yearling bull, will give them a little easier country to work in and save the bigger pastures in tougher country for the older bulls,” Hall says. “The longer those yearlings are with the cows it really starts to wear them down. If you expose him to too many cows it will affect pregnancy rate.”

“The environment will help determine how you manage those yearling bulls. Find pastures on the ranch that aren't as tough as others where they don't have as much ground to cover,” Borror says. “These younger bulls were probably used to a pretty good ration. When yearling bulls get turned out he's breeding cows, not necessarily concerned with what he's eating. Get them turned out and used to the country, those bulls learn a lot that first season.”

Understanding the mentality of that young sire will help better manage them through the first season setting them up to be a successful sire for years to come. This method of management takes time and patience, but should pay off in the long run.

“Younger bulls travel more than older bulls which will wear him out quicker. It's a lot of work for some of our customers to get these bulls ready for turnout,” Borror says. “You can get another year of service out of those yearlings if you take care of them properly that first year. From an economic standpoint it makes a lot of sense because they are usually a little more affordable and provide extra longevity with good management.”

“Those yearlings are going to be aggressive breeders and ready to work. Age is his biggest detriment that first season because he's doing a lot of new things,” Hall says. “There are a lot of advantages for producers who know how to manage yearlings and there are more good ones being offered to the commercial cattlemen. Producers that have two breeding seasons and two short rest periods keep those bulls in better shape. These operations can really take advantage of the yearling bull because they'll get a lot of use out of him.”

Acclimating bulls to their new home also plays a role in their development. Properly conditioned bulls also work well when they get turned out.

“Some producers will buy these yearling bulls, take them home and get them used to their country for six months. People like to use long yearling bulls and this is the ideal situation for some ranches,” Hall says. “Here at the bull test we put those bulls on a high roughage ration for three weeks to get them ready for turnout. It is important to make sure the yearling bulls have enough condition because they are going to lose weight breeding cows.”

“A bull in good condition is not going to wear out like a fat bull. We like to make our bulls walk to get feed and water. It toughens them up,” Borror says. “Make sure they are in good traveling condition and have a little bit of cover before turnout. It helps when these bulls have a little time to acclimate to their new home. We have customers who keep those bulls six or eight months before they turn them out. Yearling bulls work very well for those customers.”

From a marketing standpoint, selling yearling bulls is good business for some seedstock outfits. As production costs continue to escalate, seedstock suppliers are investing more in their product. Technology and the tools of the trade have gotten better to help identify superior genetics. Data gathering at the 365 day mark has long been a tradition in the industry.

“We sell more yearlings than older bulls. They are semen tested, ultrasounded and ready to go,” Borror says. “All our bulls sell with complete data. The yearlings work for a lot of our customers that run cattle in different conditions.”

“Some bull buyers don't realize the cost of raising good bulls. Seedstock producers spend a lot of money evaluating genetics,” Hall says. “The best time to collect data and separate genetics is at a year old. The virgin yearling bull is probably the safest from a trich standpoint as well. We have the technology today to identify top end bulls and buyers can acquire good genetics a little earlier.”

Managing yearling bulls does not come without headaches. As the system adapts to properly handle these bulls, advantages will be seen on many fronts. Utilizing top end genetics starts with good management. Taking the time to properly care for yearling bulls will protect the investment for future breeding seasons.

“Most producers realize, if they manage them correctly, it's a cheap investment for those really good bulls because they are going to get plenty of use with multiple breeding seasons. Handling those bulls correctly will set them up for a lot of success,” Hall says. “Managing yearling bulls requires coming up with a plan and sticking to it. Make sure you have enough bulls to protect him for future breeding seasons so he doesn't have to be replaced early.”

“Those yearling bulls are so aggressive they just go, go, go and then all of a sudden they are done. Use them lightly that first year, so next year those bulls know what to expect,” Borror says. “Don't let them get so worn out they have a hard time coming back from it.”

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