How to keep your stock bull healthy over the winter

While there have been calls for more AI usage on suckler farms, the stock bull is still the primary method of getting cows and heifers in calf. Therefore, he is a vital component of many herds.

Although the stock bull on suckler farms operating an autumn-calving system is busy at the moment, the bull on spring-calving enterprises has his job done for this year.

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.

According to Teagasc, if farmers only have access to poor-quality silage, stock bulls should be fed meal in conjunction with this silage ad-lib.

However, care should be taken not to overfeed stock bulls. Having an overweight bull will have negative implications when it comes to breeding in 2019.

If meal supplementation is required, rolled barley should be avoided. Supplementing with rolled barley can lead to foot 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 its breeding capability.

This is done by carrying out an inspection of the animal 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 be free of sores, cuts and bruises. Legs and hooves (especially hind legs) must be firm and sturdy.

Be safe

Over the housing period, farmers need to be aware of the risks associated with housed bulls, and indeed all animals. Farmers should never enter a pen with a bull and it should be moved before entering if possible.