As herds prepare for the upcoming calving season in January, it is crucial to plan and manage bulls effectively for breeding season, which typically begins in April.
The primary objectives of any breeding season should include the following:
Ensuring early pregnancy for cows: Settling cows as early as possible in the breeding season is essential for maximizing productivity. Early pregnancies result in earlier calving, leading to a more uniform and heavier calf crop. Missing a single estrus cycle in a cow can have significant economic consequences, as it translates to a younger and lighter calf at weaning time. Therefore, minimizing the time between heat cycles is crucial.
Selecting high-genetic-value bulls: Breeding cows to bulls with the highest genetic value helps improve the overall quality of the calf crop. This contributes to the long-term genetic improvement of the herd.
Economically efficient breeding: It is important to achieve the above goals while minimizing costs. This involves breeding cows to the fewest possible number of bulls, ensuring effective resource utilization.
Maintaining a defined breeding season, typically lasting 60 to 75 days, plays a vital role in achieving these objectives. A shorter breeding season allows for better record-keeping, timely management, and increased profit potential. It also facilitates more efficient cow supplementation and effective herd health programs.
To determine the appropriate number of bulls required, consider the following guideline: Each bull should cover approximately the same number of cows/heifers as its age in months. For instance, a 12-month-old bull can be expected to cover around 12 cows during its first breeding season. An 18-month-old bull should be able to settle 18 or 19 cows, while a two-year-old bull can handle up to 25 cows. Mature bulls typically have the capacity to cover 25 to 35 cows per season. It's important to note that bulls have a "prime of life" for breeding, and those over the age of six are more prone to physical breakdown.
Ensuring successful multi-sire pastures If multiple bulls will be placed in the same pasture, it is beneficial to pen them together for a few weeks before turnout. This allows time for establishing a pecking order among the bulls and provides an opportunity to identify potential replacements if any injuries occur prior to the breeding season. Injuries sustained during this crucial period can have severe economic consequences if bulls are unable to effectively breed the cows.
It is highly recommended to have all bulls undergo a comprehensive Breeding Soundness Exam (BSE). This exam includes a semen analysis and a physical examination of the entire reproductive tract, as well as an assessment of eyes, feet and legs, and teeth (in older bulls). Managing body condition scores (BCS) for bulls is equally important as it is for cows. Bulls should ideally have a BCS of six when they are introduced at the beginning of the breeding season. This is the time to focus on herd health management, including deworming and proper nutrition, to ensure that bulls are in optimal condition for breeding.
By carefully considering bull to female ratios, conducting breeding soundness exams, and prioritizing herd health, producers can enhance the efficiency and success of their breeding programs. This strategic approach sets the stage for a productive and profitable calving season.