Denise Schwab says following a formula she calls ABC 60 should help ensure bulls are ready for breeding season.
The 60 refers to the bull’s status 60 days ahead of being turned out with the cows.
“A is for assessing bull power,” says Schwab, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist in eastern Iowa. “You want to be sure those bulls can cover the cows they need to breed. You still have time to bring in bulls and acclimate them to your system.”
There are two “Bs” in the system. The first is identifying a body condition score to ensure bulls are in peak physical condition for breeding season.
The other “B” is setting up a breeding soundness exam (BSE) with a veterinarian.
“If sperm counts are bad, you still have time to improve it,” Schwab says. “With the cold weather we had in February, there has likely been some damage. You want to know that now rather than ending up with open cows later.”
She says a second BSE may be necessary closer to breeding season.
The two “Cs” are for conditioning and commingling. Schwab says bulls may be out of shape after months of rest.
“If they are in a large pasture, you could put water in one corner and mineral in another. That makes them move around more,” she says.
If more than one bull is breeding cows in the same pasture, they need to commingle ahead of breeding season.
“The pecking order needs to be established before you turn them out with the cows,” Schwab says.
If bulls have a body condition score between 5.5 and 6.5, they should be in great shape for breeding season, says Lindsay Waechter-Mead, a veterinarian with the University of Nebraska’s Great Plains Veterinary Education Center in Clay Center.
“They are going to lose up to two body condition scores during breeding,” she says. “If you are still 60 days away, you still have time to put some weight on them.”
Waechter-Mead says bulls that are too thin or too heavy could likely have problems breeding cows. She says younger bulls in the 5 to 6 range should be good to go.
The BSE should happen one to two months before bulls are turned out with the cows. Waechter-Mead says while bulls are in the chute, they should also be vaccinated.
“You want them on the same schedule as the cows,” she says. “You can also check feet, legs, vision and even teeth. You want to make sure they can do their job.”
Waechter-Mead says much of the Midwest experienced a very cold and snowy winter. She says some of her colleagues have reported more instances of frostbite.
“This year it’s even more important to check the bulls for scarring of the scrotum,” Waechter-Mead says. “If the bulls weren’t bedded down, there’s a good chance for frostbite.”
She says bulls can usually cover as many cows as months in their age. For example, a 30-month-old bull should be able to breed 30 cows. Thirty cows per bull for bulls over 30 months of age generally works well, although clean-up bulls could cover up to 60 cows.
She says a BSE should help determine which bulls will be ready to work.
“It’s really a great insurance policy,” Waechter-Mead says. “You need to know now, because by the end of the breeding season, it will be too late.”