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Pre / post purchasing of a breeding bull

24 February 2016
  • The bull needs at least 2 to 3 months from purchase at sales to adjust and get into condition ready to go out with the females.
  • Take time to see the bull you may decide to buy. An extra day at the sales can often prove to be justifiable.  Arriving early will allow you to go to where the bulls are brought to be washed to view them.  Spend plenty time watching the bulls moving to and from the show ring and then watch them against their contemporaries in the show ring.
  • After purchasing ask the seller if possible to give you a bag of the feed or what is left that the bulls are being fed on at sale. It would be good in the future that this became common practice to have feed available to the buyer.  Vendors (breeders) have to consider what they are being fed and not to solely go for high levels of energy dense feeds.
  • When the bull arrives at his new home it is recommended to wash him down to take out the soap etc used at the sales. Leaving this on can cause skin irritation and has at times led to hair loss.
  • It is sometimes remarked that after a few days, the purchased bull seems very restless and has temperament issues. He has new surroundings and needs time to settle in.
  • At this stage, do not suddenly put him on a restricted diet as it is not good to have sudden changes in quantity and type of feed. It could be worthwhile to purchase or make up a good energy concentrate feed.
  • He needs controlled condition score loss. Sudden dietary shocks can cause fertility issues and unsettle him.  Feed him reasonably well initially to settle him and then slowly start to reduce the level of concentrates over a period of time.  He is not used to just forage.  Make sure that not only is the correct energy and protein fed but there are also the right levels of vitamins and minerals.
  • Also these bulls are often group housed from weaning and not used to isolation. Do not simply purchase the bull and then put him in an area where he has little contact with what is going on roundabout him on the farm or in very confined dark pens.  Yes he needs to be quarantined (check what the rules are) but he needs to see movement going on round about as he has had a lot of close contact prior to sale.  Spend time with your investment.  Allow him to have exercise, which he has been used to when being reared.  If halter trained then ideal to continue with this.  As soon as he is out of quarantine then close contact with other livestock is advised.
  • What is a bull worth? We can all do in depth calculations but really the market will dictate due to supply and demand.  However listening to some wise men some reckoned it needed to be the same price as 6 good store calves.  To me that is about £5,000.  Another estimated that it needs to be 8 finished beasts, which is about £10,000.  So is this the real worth between £5,000 and £10,000 for the quality bull we need?  Who knows, as many good bulls have cost less?  It will also be different for those who have 2 calving periods so doubling numbers of cows he serves in a year.
  • It costs a considerable investment to bring a bull out and we hear increasing values often varying from £2,500 to £4,000 which has also to take into account the cost of insurance with some higher priced bulls which the seller may partly cover.
  • With insurance, it is vital that you know exactly what you are covered for.
  • Recommended that prior to the bull being used he is given a veterinary pre-breeding examination to check the bull is physically normal and has adequate semen quality.
  • To avoid injury to the bull when he is put out to work, the bull should be allowed exercise in a small paddock with some company to get his locomotion and muscles working in preparation for serving the cows. (Imagine Usain Bolt sat on his behind for 3 months before running 100 metres.  He would pull every muscle in his body!!).  It is ideal to keep water and feed apart to encourage the bull to exercise.
  • A number of commercial men are now testing bulls pre season with a couple of cows to see if he settles them, so gaining confidence prior to the main bulling period. The young bull should be educated and serve his first female under supervision on a non slip surface.  Observe the bull closely at the start of mating to check for normal service behaviour and absence of any penile injury/lesions – e.g. warts.
  • On buying a bull from the sales, how many cows should he go to when ready? The view seems to vary from 10 to 20 females for a young bull.  The bull is untested so it really is your choice.  Monitor returns to service (more than 50% returns is suspicious).
  • Don’t get rid of the old bull yet, as the young bull has to prove himself and it is always correct to have back-up on farm. Often we lack bull power on farms and work with little, if any spare.
  • Don’t forget parasite control – worm/fluke dose after grazing period as many young bulls will have little or no immunity
  • After the young bull has been removed from the cows, he should then be put onto a growing ration as he still has significant growth and development to do. Often this is not done and can have an impact on his longevity and capability.
  • For bulls that have lost more than 0.75 CS, start the feeding earlier so that there is a longer time to replenish weight at a sensible weight gain and concentrate input. For large bulls that have lost a lot of weight then a standard 12 ME beef nut will not do. They require a higher energy nut (12.5 to 13 ME) and if large amounts are needed then it must be spread over 2 meals per day.

Gavin Hill, Assistant Regional Manager, SAC Consulting Solutions

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