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Beef special: Suckler bulls need managing all year to perform at their best

Bulls require year-round attention to enable them to perform at their best during the mating period.

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Beef special: Suckler bulls needs managing all year to perform at their best

And according to vet Dr Jack Sheldrake, managing the bull when it is not working is the time you can really make a difference.


Dr Sheldrake, of Black Sheep Farm Vets, says: “Once it is in with the cows then that is it – either it will work or it will not.”


He adds it is important to remember there should be an ‘after breeding season’ period.


“Everyone’s system will run differently, but generally speaking the bull should be left in for three cycles or nine weeks.


“However, leaving a bull in for 10 weeks is perfectly reasonable to allow for variations between the cow’s natural cycles. Some herds with high fertility may opt for only seven or eight weeks, while for those farms initially trying to tighten the calving pattern, 12 weeks is a good place to start.”


Dr Sheldrake says once away from cows, the bull should remain outside until winter to help it maintain a level of fitness and soundness of its feet.


Dr Sheldrake says: “Scanning a few cows early would allow you to provide it with a couple of nicely in-calf cows with bull calves to keep it company.


“Making up a small group is unlikely to extend the calving pattern, but makes a more useful group of cattle which can be used to graze smaller awkward fields.”




It is also important to remember to include the bull in all the herd treatments the cows receive.


Dr Sheldrake says: “Make sure it receives protection against flies in summer and lice in winter. A winter lice infestation in a bull can have a massively detrimental effect on body condition and fertility which can take many months to correct.


“Vaccinations should be given in line with the cows. Worming and treatment for fluke is also required. There is some evidence bulls are more affected by fluke than cows.”



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He adds trace elements can be a factor leading to poor fertility in some areas of the UK.


“To have a successful bulling and calving period it is vital the cows receive an appropriate bolus pre-calving. Care should be taken with your bolus selection as it needs to last long to be releasing sufficient quantities of trace elements throughout bulling.”


With many trace element boluses available, Dr Sheldrake says it is important to take advice from a vet or independent adviser.


He also says it is important bulls receive a bolus at least two months prior to starting work, but he says it is common for bulls to be missed altogether.


“I suspect this is mainly because an uncooperative bull can make this minor task into a bit of a nightmare if its wants to.”


Correct winter housing is important to maintain mobility and sound feet.


Dr Sheldrake says: “Whatever system is used, it is important there is an area of concrete which the bulls regularly stand on. Bulls wintered on straw alone develop soft feet and are more prone to lameness.”

Foot care

  • Foot trim all bulls two to three months before the start of mating
  • Any niggling existing issues can be sorted and the hoof can be sculpted so the weight is distributed correctly
  • Leaving foot trimming too close to bulling makes it difficult for the trimmer to do an adequate job

Buying-in bulls

  • If a new bull does have to be bought, place it into quarantine on arrival and test for any diseases you do not want to introduce to the herd, then vaccinate in line with the rest of the herd
  • If the bull has previously been with cows, great care should be taken not to buy-in campylobacter
  • Find out the status of the herd it came from and ask your vet about a sheath wash

Fertility testing

  • Fertility testing should be carried out about six to eight weeks before the bull will be used
  • Although completely infertile bulls are fortunately relatively rare, 25 per cent of bulls are sub-fertile.
  • These bulls do tend to get the cows in-calf eventually but are not able to get enough cows in-calf in the allowed timeframe
  • The aim is to have 94 per cent of cows in-calf within nine weeks of bulling
  • A fertility test involves a physical examination to check for gross abnormalities which will affect mating followed by a semen test to make sure the bull is both physically able to mate the cow and has fertile semen
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