Tips for choosing the right bull

By Gary Sliworsky
Ag rep, Emo

A lot of herds are finished calving and it is now time to think about re-breeding the herd.
What breed should you use, when should the bull be put in with the herd, how many, and what age should the bulls be?
Many producers tend to purchase a yearling bull when looking for a herd sire. But a yearling bull can be compared to a bred heifer—it is still growing and is expected to do a job it has no experience with.
Many producers have found open cows after using a yearling bull.
Perhaps we are expecting too much. A yearling bull reasonably can breed about 15 females under good conditions (good conditions means the bull is in good body condition, pasture is good, the herd is in a small area, and the yearling bull is not competing with older bulls).
A young bull needs time to learn the job—too much work can be discouraging! Yearling bulls need tender loving care the first year, which includes good quality feed after the breeding season to grow to potential for the next breeding season.
Herd owners with more than 20 cows should be using at least a two-year-old bull, and 60-80 cows on a large pasture require at least two mature bulls.
Many good quality mature bulls are sold for meat each year. If you need a mature bull, check with a neighbour—a purchase or a trade may be possible.
Now, when to put the bull with the cows? The answer, of course, depends on when you want your cows to calve next year.
Many producers wintering cows outside are moving to March and April calving times. Some even are calving in May.
Research shows real benefits to spring calving. There are fewer health problems compared to January-February calving and less expensive shelter is required.
Cows calving in the spring are going to grass within six weeks and are able to provide the milk needed as the growing calf’s demands increase.
There are fewer frozen ears for both the producer and the calf compared to January calving. As well, the best hay can be fed to pregnant cows to keep up body condition rather than holding it to feed after calving.
To begin calving in mid-March of next year, put the bull with cows the first week of June. For early-April calving, the bull should be in by the last week in June.
For anyone hoping to calve in the middle of April, hold the bull until the 1st week of July. For early-May calving, the last week in July is good.
Everyone has a favourite breed, but you need to produce a product the buyer demands. In the cow-calf business, this is usually a well-muscled, fast-growing calf eventually going into a feedlot.
There also are the heifers to put back into the herd.
Dates to remember
•May 4–Rainy River Federation of Agriculture spring dinner, 7:30 p.m., Emo Legion.