The Basics Of Bull Management
Farmer's Weekly|June 18, 2021
The money-maker in the herd is the bull, says eastern Free State Simbra breeder Rick Dell. He spoke to Annelie Coleman about the management and selection of breeding bulls for commercial cattle herds.
Annelie Coleman

A high conception rate should be the most important consideration in any herd management system, which is why bull selection is so important. The right bull is the one with the genetic abilities to produce good-quality calves. Such a bull forms the genetic and economic foundation of a sustainable cattle concern.

“It’s illogical to use just any old bull, as the bull is the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg,” says Rick Dell, who runs the R2K Simbra stud near Ficksburg in the eastern Free State with his wife, Riëtte.

Dell stresses the importance of breeding seasons in cattle management. Removing bulls from the cow herd once the breeding season has concluded creates an opportunity for producers to test the bulls’ fertility and test for sexually transmitted diseases. This also opens a window for vaccinations and treatment against parasites.

Most importantly, though, the bulls are given a chance to rest and gain condition for the coming breeding season. A bull in good condition before the breeding season starts is an asset in a herd. In contrast, a bull that is too fat usually struggles to keep up and could, in the long run, cause the producer to lose money. Dell says it is essential to keep track of the bulls’ behaviour during the breeding season, as this is a vital management tool that allows the producer to pick up problems and take action before it is too late.

“Merely chasing the bull or bulls in with the cows without regular observation is a mistake that can cost a farmer a lot of money in the long run. The economic realities of beef cattle production are such that substandard or poorly performing bulls simply can’t be allowed in a herd,” he explains.

MORE THAN ONE BULL WORKS BETTER

Dell advises the use of multiple sires in herds. Firstly, in the case of big camps with more than one watering point, the cows tend to break up into smaller groups, making it difficult for a single bull to get around to them all every day.

Secondly, there is the danger of a single bull falling ill and failing to service the cows, which would obviously reduce calf numbers. Multi-siring provides a backup, and doubles or triples the chance of conception.

Dell adds that it is advisable to put an older bull with a younger one, as it creates a clear pecking order and results in less fighting. Bulls should be put to the correct number of cows. Dell recommends between 20 and 24 cows for a bull younger than 24 months, and between 25 and 35 cows for an older bull, depending on its age and condition. Too few or too many cows per bull do not make for good business. Having too many cows can cause injury or infertility in young bulls if they are worked too intensively.

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