Not too early to give bulls a pre-spring check-up

It may seem a little early to worry about bull power for this season, as many producers are still waiting for a trip to the February sales, but getting stock bulls in check now could save problems in the long run.

All too often bulls are overlooked until the last minute, which can have a huge impact on calving pattern and efficiency, reckons MLC’s Duncan Pullar.

“Checking feet, body condition and semen quality are all effective management tools which should be carried out as routine practice.”

Any issues with lameness should be followed with foot trimming well in advance of working, he says.

“This should be coupled with semen quality analysis to determine workable size of cow groups.”

For older bulls that worked last season, Kelso-based vet Robert Anderson says a physical examination should be enough if last year’s records show good conception.

“But for younger bulls, newly purchased ones and those with poorer records, a physical examination and semen sampling through electro-ejaculation will highlight any problems in advance of mating.”

Semen tests should also be followed with libido tests on a bulling heifer or cow, he adds.

But the important thing to remember is health status, stresses Mr Anderson.

“For those producers looking to buy from a sale, check health status for bovine viral diarrhoea, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, leptospirosis and, ideally, Johne’s disease.”

Equally important is that all working bulls get their routine vaccinations for the following season.

Dr Pullar also warns that producers should not hire or buy bulls from farms where they have previously worked unless an accurate measure of health status can be provided.

Mr Anderson adds that when working bulls have been bought or hired a sheath wash screen should be used to check for campylobacter.

Getting bulls in correct condition is another vital factor for successful mating.

Exeter-based pedigree and commercial breeder Jilly Greed prefers to get her bulls in the right condition as soon as they come in for housing.

“Bulls are offered a 14% protein coarse mix containing oats, barley and minerals to keep them ticking over through winter.

This avoids pushing them before they start working.

At a condition score of 2.5-3 we want them fit, but not fat.”

Edinburgh-based vet Colin Penny says producers should pay extra attention to body condition when buying bulls.

“Bulls that have been steamed up for show and sale melt away too quickly when they are turned out with cows straight away and that can affect fertility.”

Temperament is also a factor to consider, says Mrs Greed.

Her bulls are housed with either in-calf heifers or cows for ease of management.

“It’s vital we don’t have aggressive bulls and separating them into pens where they can see and aggravate each other won’t help.”

And with bull housing costs in the region of 80p-1 a day, keeping them with the cows helps bring costs down, she believes.