High cost of early bull cull
By Richard Allison
STOCK bulls are a considerable investment for beef producers, but with an average working life of four years, the cost of keeping a bull can exceed £900 a year, according to a recent survey.
Beef bulls are worth little when culled within the over 30-month scheme, says the Royal Dick Vet Schools Colin Penny, who carried out the survey. "This results in considerable annual depreciation, unless the bull has a long working life."
The aim of the survey was to determine at what age bulls were culled and for what reason. More than 600 beef bulls were included, the most common breeds being Charolais, Simmental and Limousin, he says.
"The average age of bulls culled was 5.8 years, which equates to four working years because most bulls are not used until 18 months of age," says Mr Penny.
Independent vet consultant Tony Andrews is surprised by the results. "I would have estimated the working life of a beef bull to be nearer six years, this is an important finding," he adds.
The most common reason identified by the survey for culling bulls was lameness, back problems and fractured limbs, says Mr Penny. He believes that producers can extend their bulls life by improving management, thereby reducing costs.
"To reduce lameness, trim bulls feet at least once a year. Few producers in the survey trimmed bulls feet," he says.
One reason why feet are not routinely trimmed on beef farms is a lack of good handling facilities, believes Dr Andrews. "Bulls can be sedated instead, but this causes other problems and requires lots of labour."
Floor surface is also a big factor contributing to lameness, he adds. A slippery surface can often lead to injury. Try to serve cows on areas covered with straw, sawdust or peat, to reduce the shock on legs when the bull dismounts the cow."
The other main reason for culling in the survey was risk of inbreeding in beef herds which produce their own replacements, says Mr Penny.
One solution is to use AI or a different bull to produce replacements, advises Dr Andrews. "However, AI is not an easy option unless facilities are available to restrain cows for service."
The annual cost of keeping a bull is about £925, says Mr Penny. "This should be taken into account when deciding whether to use AI instead of a beef bull."
But Dr Andrews reminds producers that bulls can serve 50 cows a year, costing £19 a cow, which is no higher than the cost of AI. *
Old age 15%
Penile problem 5%
Poor temperament 4%
• Working life of four years.
• Trim feet regularly.
• Use AI to avoid inbreeding.