STOCKTON, Mo. - Bull development and management is important to promote optimum breeding season performance.  Optimum breeding season performance promotes optimum herd pregnancy rates which is important to cattle herd productivity and profitability.  Therefore, this article will provide tips in selection, development, and management of bulls for optimum breeding season performance. 

Bulls need to be structurally sound, have good feet and legs to do their job during the breeding season, and transmit these traits to offspring that are retained in the herd.  Poorly structured bulls may perform poorly during the breeding season.  Furthermore, if replacements are retained, these poor structure genetics are propagated through the herd.  When developing and selecting bulls, always evaluate structure and cull bulls that don’t have optimum structural soundness.  Some guides to look at to help evaluate structural soundness in cattle include:   

Foot and Leg Scoring Guide (PDF) (opens in new window)

Foot Score Poster (PDF) (opens in new window)

Manage bulls to be in proper body condition during development and the breeding season for optimum breeding performance.  Body condition score, which is evaluated at the topline, tail head, hooks, pins, and brisket, is an indicator of energy status.  The ideal body condition score for a bull during development and the breeding season is a 6 which is a smooth appearance of fat cover throughout.  Bulls that are developed to a higher body condition score need to be brought down to that 6 score prior to entering the breeding pasture for optimum breeding performance.  For more information on body condition score evaluation and management look at MU Extension guide g2230 (pdf opens in new window).

Bulls need to be adapted to a high forage diet prior to entering the breeding pasture.  Sometimes bulls are feed a high concentrate diet during performance testing.  These bulls need to be adapted to a high roughage diet prior to entering the breeding season to reduce stress of breeding pasture diet transition.  Using this strategy should also help bulls be in proper condition and plane of nutrition as they enter the breeding season which will help promote optimum breeding season performance. 

Consult your veterinarian to develop a proper vaccination and parasite control program for your bulls.  This helps a bull develop to his full potential.  Furthermore, this reduces the chance of bulls bring health and parasite problem into the cattle herd.  Use MU Extension Guide g2044 (pdf opens in new window) when working with your veterinarian to develop the best vaccination and parasite control program for your operation.

Bulls should have a breeding soundness exam done prior to the breeding season.  During this exam, a veterinarian  evaluates the bull’s reproductive tract and semen quality to make sure the bull is acceptable to breed cows in the upcoming breeding season.  Additionally, at this time the cattle producer can evaluate structural soundness, body condition score, and provide annual vaccinations and parasite control.  This checkup makes sure that the bull is healthy and ready to breed cows during the breeding season. 

Optimum bull to cow ratio is important for optimum breeding season performance.  Rule of thumb on young bulls is one cow per month of age up to 2 years.  For example, if the bull is 14 months old then he should be paired with 14 cows.  Mature bulls should be paired in a ratio of 1 to 25 to 35 cows for optimum pregnancy rates.  For cattle producers that use estrous synchronization and artificial insemination consult MU Extension guide g2027 (pdf opens in new window) for recommendation on bull to cow ratio in this scenario.

If multi-sire bull breeding pastures are used make sure bulls are close in age and are acclimated to each other prior to turned out.  This will cut down on fighting and injury issues as the bulls enter the breeding pasture which means they are more likely to go breed cows.

Once the bull is in the breeding pasture, monitor to make sure proper performance is taking place.  Check the bull periodically to make sure he is breeding cows.  Also monitor cows and if you notice multiple cows repeatedly returning to estrus or heat during the breeding season this might be the result of a bull failure which mean the bull may need to be evaluated and possibly replaced.  On young bulls, watch for maintenance in body condition and if condition slips to a 4, which is considered thin condition, the bull should be replaced with a bull in acceptable condition and energy status.  Also watch bulls for any injuries and treat or replace the bull as those problems arise.

For more information on proper development and management of bulls for optimum breeding season success contact your local MU Extension Livestock Field Specialist.