For suckler herds that start calving from mid- to late-February, the breeding season is six to eight weeks away.
Therefore, give thought to the current condition of the stock bull.
Carry out any routine management tasks now, some of which are outlined below.
Do not leave foot trimming until the week before the bull goes out to cows. His mobility will be impaired and the handling process may cause the bull to be sub-fertile for a short period.
Trim overgrown feet now. This gives time to allow the animal’s feet to harden up again before breeding starts.
In addition, if the stock bull was bedded on straw all winter, make sure the herd sire has access to concrete or a clean hard standing area for a few hours daily to harden feet again.
Mobility is crucial for breeding. A fertile bull needs to walk freely on all four feet. If the bull has been housed all winter in a small isolated pen, it will not have had much exercise.
As stores are sold in spring or cattle go out to grass, can the bull move to a larger pen in the main cattle shed where it has more space to walk and exercise?
Alternatively, let the bull stand in the handling unit every now and then. This will help the bull exercise and show up any potential problems with locomotion, lameness or hind legs.
Restrain the bull and check the testicles for abnormal lumps, swelling, hardness or warts.
Both testicles should be evenly sized and symmetrical. The testicles should have a firm feel, similar to a flexed bicep.
The testicles should hang freely. Tight, wedged-shaped testicles are less able to regulate semen temperature, so the bull’s fertility can be affected.
Measure the circumference of the testicles. A stock bull over 24 months old should have testicles with a minimum circumference of 34cm.
Check the bull’s penis when checking the testicles. It should also be free of warts or lumps and should not corkscrewed.
5. Body condition
Run your hand over the ribs, loin and hindquarter to monitor body condition. If the bull lacks muscle definition and fat cover, it will need additional feed to build condition before breeding starts. Offer 2kg to 3kg of concentrate daily until turnout or condition improves.
6. Mouth and eyes
Make sure that the bull’s teeth are fine and the bottom jaw is not overshot. Eyes should be clear and bright.
7. Breeding vaccines
For herds with a vaccination programme in place for diseases, such as BVD, lepto, salmonella, etc, check to see if the bull needs his annual booster.
8. Body temperature
Check the bull’s body temperature. A high temperature will mean there is an underlying health challenge, which could impair fertility.
9. Nose ring
Make sure the bull’s nose ring is secure and intact. If not, replace it immediately. Having a nose ring in place makes it easier to handle a bull when required.
10. Semen sample
Getting the bull’s semen tested can be a good idea, but its results are limited. Semen tested today will only give a snapshot of the animal’s fertility levels now.
A sample tested at the end of March does not a guarantee the stock bull will be fertile in June and July.
But if the sample shows the bull is currently infertile or sub-fertile, then there is time to source a replacement sire or consider using AI.