In this article, FRS looks at managing bulls over the winter.
In order to grow a herd, a bull is a vital component of the farm. The majority of Irish dairy and beef farms will run at least one bull with cows.
A bull on a spring-calving enterprise has his job done for this year. However, farmers need to keep their bulls healthy for them to perform again next year.
The winter management of bulls is crucial to ensuring they are ready for next season.
Bulls that are not provided with the necessary care over the coming months have an increased risk of becoming infertile.
If a farmer does not have a maintenance programme in place, we would recommend implementing one for the winter.
Particular attention needs to be paid to nutrition, health care and off-season management.
Studies show that a body condition score (BCS) above 2 and below 5 is adequate for a breeding bull.
Feed supplies and sources will vary on each farm, but good quality silage should be sufficient to keep the bull in good body condition.
Getting silage tested can inform the farmer of the quality and what type of additional supplement may be needed.
Farmers can consult their local feed supplier to come up with a suitable diet.
Depending on the severity of the weather, animals may need more energy to keep warm.
Commonly, the diet may be supplemented with additional meal and a vitamin/mineral boost.
These additives should serve as cell protectors and prevent damage to sperm from stress.
Avoid over-feeding with grain as this can lead to acidosis and liver abscesses, or foot problems.
An overfed bull can also melt when serving. Aim to achieve a lean-to-moderate body condition.
Weather can affect not only a bull’s appetite but also its general health.
If an animal is in a direct path for wind, they may be at a higher risk for getting a chill or, in very cold weather, frostbite.
Strong and healthy bulls will most likely recover from mild cases, but bad frostbite can leave long-term damage.
Prevention is the best course of action, and farmers should try to put windbreakers in pens.
For safety, a well-designed bullpen is essential. The bullpen should be located so that the bull can see other cattle and daily farm activity in the farmyard.
The structure must be strong and high enough to stop them from escaping.
Straw is a good source of heat for bedding. However, at bedding time, farmers should be aware of the dangers of getting in with a bull.
If possible, bulls should be penned back or put out of the shed when bedding.
They should have access to a clean concrete floor because if a bull is only exposed to straw bedding, their feet are at a higher risk of becoming sore, tender, and in some cases, overgrown.
Hoof care services
FRS provides an expert hoof care service to farmers. FRS technicians recommend a foot condition is seen to as soon as it is detected.
Each FRS hoof care specialist will be able to advise the farmer on the best possible care for their animals.
Pens where bulls are housed should be cleaned on regular occasions.
A supply of clean water should always be available to the animal. The water supply should be easily cleaned from outside to avoid getting in with the bull.
Lastly, farmers must remember that bulls can be aggressive animals and always error on the side of caution.
Watch for danger signs, and never turn your back on a bull. If moving, dosing etc, always ensure you have help.
Persons handling bulls should be fit and agile and be aged between 18 and 65 years.
To find out more about FRS hoof care service, contact FRS on 0818 890 890 or visit www.frsfarmrelief.ie for more information.