Selecting from the right source is the first step. I recommend selecting a bull from a program that has strict health requirements. The last thing you want to do is pay for a new disease. Ask for a vaccination history and have a conversation with the breeder about herd health protocols. When talking with your potential bull supplier, ask if bulls have been BVD-PI tested and if there has been a Johne’s test done on the bull’s dam. Not only will this help safeguard your herd against disease, but it will open the door for fluid communication with your bull supplier.

Meteer travis
Beef Extension Educator / University of Illinois

After you have procured the vaccination history and herd health info from your bull supplier, give your veterinarian a call. Your veterinarian can advise you on follow-up vaccinations or tests that should be conducted on the bull before he is turned out with your herd.

One test that is essential prior to turnout is a breeding soundness exam (BSE). Many bull sales will have bulls already checked. If they aren’t, any reputable breeder would guarantee a bull to pass a BSE conducted by your veterinarian. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a yearly BSE done on all bulls you plan to use. Don’t wait until the last minute. Finding a replacement bull late in the sale season can be challenging.

When new bull purchases arrive on your farm, quarantine them for a minimum of two weeks. One month is more ideal. This quarantine will allow time for potential pathogens to break without exposing your herd. Many times cattle coming from a sale have experienced elevated stress. It is important to keep them on good feed, in a clean pen and allow the quarantine period to run its course.

During the quarantine period is a great time to start transitioning the bull nutritionally. Knowing what bulls were fed prior to arriving at your farm is useful. However, providing a fiber-based diet including free-choice long-stem grass hay and 6 to 8 pounds of an equal blend of cracked corn, corn gluten feed and soybean hull pellets will work. Also, make sure a good mineral is included at 4 ounces per head per day in the feed or offered free-choice. Continue to monitor the bulls when on pasture. Supplements may be needed while on pasture, especially for yearling bulls that are still growing.


Keeping in mind the most profitable herds get cows and heifers to conceive early in the breeding season, a few more tips come to mind. Don’t short bulls on fly control. Many times poor fly control can lead to bulls wanting to stand in ponds, creeks or muddy areas to help cover surface areas from flies. This can lead to foot problems later in the season. Prior to turnout and in off periods, make sure bulls are housed in clean areas with plenty of footing or traction to avoid foot problems or injuries.

The appropriate number of bulls

Having the appropriate number of bulls is crucial to attaining a tight, short breeding season. Normally, a bull can service 20 to 30 cows. Younger bulls will be on the low end of that range, and older bulls will be on the higher end. Bulls must be fertile and athletic to meet this bull-to-cow ratio.

Inevitably a bull will fail. At this time, you must have another bull to step in. Although I am certain the baseball term “bull pen” doesn’t originate from this scenario, you need to have a relief pitcher in the bull pen. The relief bull can come in and finish the game if your starter can’t go nine innings. It is that simple.

An extra bull doesn’t have to be locked up. In fact, having plenty of bull power in the pasture at the beginning of the season may be the wisest decision. As long as bulls are grouped with similar age bulls prior to turnout, multiple bull pastures can increase bull libido and help service cows quickly. Many times after synchronization protocols for A.I., cows will re-cycle somewhat synched up. A good place for your relief pitcher may be in the pasture helping service this second wave of cows.

In summary, bull management is just as important to your breeding season as cow herd health and nutrition. Utilize your team to ensure success. Involve your bull supplier, veterinarian and nutritionist. Attention to the details will result in good return on your bull investment.  end mark

Travis Meteer is an extension educator for the University of Illinois. Email Travis Meteer.

PHOTO: Staff photo.