On most Irish suckler farms, the stock bull is the primary method of getting cows and heifers in calf. Given this, a stock bull is a vital component of many herds.

However, Teagasc estimates that 3-4% of bulls are infertile and a further 15-20% are partially or periodically infertile.

Bulls that are not provided with the necessary care over the winter period are at an increased risk of becoming infertile. In addition, a poor plain of nutrition or poor management practices can have a negative effect on the bull’s functionality.

Farmers should ensure that their bulls are fit, healthy, fertile and in good body condition. Feeding good-quality silage (>75% dry matter digestibility) ad-lib should be sufficient to keep the bull in good body condition.

This year, farmers may only have access to poor-quality silage. According to Teagasc, if this is the case, stock bulls should be fed 3.5-4kg of meal in conjunction with ad-lib silage.

However, care should be taken not to overfeed stock bulls. Having an overweight bull will have negative implications when it comes to breeding in 2018.

If meal supplementation is required, rolled barley should be avoided. Supplementing with rolled barley can lead to feet problems at a later stage.

Where animals are housed, stock bulls – where possible – should have access to a clean concrete floor. Bull’s feet – that are continuously exposed to straw bedding – can sometimes become tender, overgrown and sore.

Pens where bulls are housed should be cleaned on regular occasions. A supply of clean water should be available to the animal at all times. Stock bulls that are out-wintered should be checked regularly.

Fertility testing

During the housing period, bulls can be fertility tested. Most vets can now carry out these tests. Bull fertility testing is a cost effective on farm analysis of a bull’s breeding capability.

This is done by carrying out an inspection of the bull on the farm. In addition, a number of physical and laboratory fertility tests are carried out.

The bull needs to have a strong libido, firm testicles with a high, fertile sperm count. The scrotum area should free of sores, cuts and bruises. Legs and hooves (especially hind legs) must be firm and sturdy.