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MT. VERNON – Bull management is an important part of running beef cows. A key to successful bull management is having and using a bull pasture according to Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist, University of Missouri Extension.
“This is the time of year when owners of well-managed cattle herds are pulling their bulls from their cow herds,” said Cole. “The bulls likely were put with the cows and heifers in late April and by early July they’ve had a 75 to 90 day breeding season.
According to Cole, females should have cycled and had the opportunity to breed two to possibly four times during that period depending on their calving date and interval from then to first heat.
“By having a well defined breeding season you should have a closer bunched, more uniform set of calves. This is an asset at marketing time as larger groups of uniform calves typically sell for a higher price,” said Cole.
The price of the heifer calves should also be higher as they are less likely to have been bred by the bulls if they are removed before the heifers reach puberty.
Research consistently shows that as temperatures warm up, conception rates go down and the calf crop becomes more strung out if the bulls remain with the cows. This is especially true in fescue country as the endophyte problem or heat stress adds insult injury as summer temperatures climb.
A University of Kentucky trial found a breeding season from April 21 to June 5 resulted in an 89 percent pregnancy rate. A breeding season from May 21 to July 6 resulted in 78 percent of the cows becoming pregnant. Only 59 percent of the cows settled when bred from June 19 to Aug. 4.
An Oklahoma State report compared records from 394 Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico ranches. Those records show a 75-day breeding season, compared to those leaving the bull with the cows year round, resulted in a reduced cost of $13.63 for producing 100 pounds of calf.
“In other words, it makes economic sense to control the breeding season,” said Cole.
The best way to control the breeding season is to have a place to put the bull or bulls safely away from the females. It is also important that neighboring producers practice bull management.
“I’ve heard some folks say they leave their bulls with their cows in self-defense against their neighbors inferior or the wrong color bull,” said Cole. “Electric fencing helps in bull control.”
An important feature in setting up a bull pasture is to realize it will be occupied over 200 days out of the year, possibly more for herds that have only one calving season.
Bulls need exercise so Cole recommends planning on at least a two-acre per bull area, even more if possible. Locate minerals, water, fly control devices and shade so the bulls are forced to move around.
“This extra space can reduce fighting as they establish the pecking order,” said Cole.
Cattlemen debate whether bulls should run together. Cole says he has seen lots of operations where they are commingled after the breeding season very successfully.
“Providing plenty of space in the pasture, around the feed and hay areas as well as at the water source helps them get along without injury,” said Cole.
During the time bulls are separated from the cows they should gain in body condition, especially young bulls that have been worked hard in their first breeding season.
“Bull management pays whether the bull cost $1,000 or $4,000 and whether you have 15 or 500 cows. The only farms or ranches that might not need a bull pasture could be those who practice 100 percent artificial insemination or those who lease their bulls,” said Cole.
For more information, contact any of the MU Extension livestock specialists in southwest Missouri: Eldon Cole in Mt. Vernon, (417) 466-3102 or Dona Goede in Cedar County, (417) 276-3313.