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Bulls have a very significant influence on a healthy, productive and profitability herd. The average cow will produce 5–10 progeny in a lifetime in the commercial herd while the bull may produce 120–150 progeny in four to five years in its working life1.
Bulls must be sound for breeding:
willing and able to serve a high percentage of cows on heat
free of any abnormalities of the penis, testicles, feet and legs
Research conducted in Victoria demonstrated bulls were unsound for a range of reasons which increased with increasing bull age2,3.
A total of 25.2% of 2085 bulls over 3 years of age were unsound for breeding, of which3:
13.8% had locomotion problems
6.3% had penile problems
3.2% had a low libido, and
1.9% had testicular issues and / or poor sperm
There are a number of factors to consider:
BULLCHECK® - Veterinary bull breeding soundness examination (VBBSE) – a relatively quick and economic procedure for screening bulls prior to sale or use.4
Temperament –a highly heritable trait. Observe bulls in yards or paddocks prior to purchase and note any unusual/undesirable behaviour.
Estimated breeding values (EBVs) – provide objective measures of genetic potential for a trait. (For Angus breeders, consider bulls with EBVs enhanced with genomic information provided by i50K or HD 50K for Angus)
Vaccinations and health treatments –only buy bulls that come with information about the vaccinations and health treatments they have received.
Preparing your bull for joining
A yearly examination of all bulls in a herd reduces the risk of poor performing bulls and bull breakdowns impacting reproductive outcomes5.
Ideally this should be done by an experienced cattle veterinarian
Physical examination– particularly noting the feet and legs
Scrotum examination– palpate contents and measure scrotal circumference
Semen analysis – especially on bulls with obvious scrotal problems
Examination of internal genitalia - involves palpation of the seminal vesicles and the ampullae to ensure they are normal
Serving ability - assesses the bulls libido or will to serve.
Aim for a scrotal circumference of 35 cm and above (min. is 32-34cm depending on age and breed)6.
Ensure bulls are in BCS 3.0 for mating
Supplement to raise BCS or “let down” slowly if too fat
Bulls should be in good condition (BCS 3.0) at least 2 months prior to mating
Over-fatness can interfere with heat exchange of the testicles, compromising fertility7.
How many bulls?
A minimum of 2 bulls per 100 cows is recommended
Mating load, or bull power, will vary with bull breed, size, age, testicular size and management factors
Retain 1 bull in reserve for every 10 bulls in work so that injured bulls can be replaced as soon as they are identified
Working bulls of similar age together can reduce fighting
Plan mating groups eight weeks before joining and run bulls in those groups prior to mating to allow bulls to establish social groups.
Single or Multi-Sire Joining?
Conception rates in multiple-sire groups are usually higher
bulls that are being watched by other bulls are likely to serve females more often
Single-sire joining reduces the risk of injury from fighting, but increases the risk of low calving percentage. Particular care should be taken when single-sire joining:
Assess bulls prior to mating - BULLCHECK
Join to 50 cows maximum
Rotate bulls to cover for any fertility issues
Observe closely to ensure bulls are working
Age of your Bulls
Mate yearling bulls to a maximum of 25-30 females/bull
Single-sire join or multi-sire join with bulls of the same age that are run together prior to mating
Join yearling bulls for 6–8 weeks (2 cycles) only, then spell for at least 3 months
After removing yearling bulls from their joining groups, place them on high quality feed to reduce the impact of nutritional stress of mating
Because the rate of bull failure increases with age, it is essential that older bulls are checked prior to mating, ideally via BULLCHECK
Bulls >5yo are especially prone to diseases and bull breakdown
Know the common cattle diseases in your locality and establish risk based control programs
Diseases can be particularly costly when they affect the fertility of the bull and/or breeding females, resulting in lower than acceptable conception rates or an extended joining period
All bulls should be vaccinated with:
7-in-1 vaccine to protect against leptospirosis and clostridial diseases
Pestivirus (BVDV) vaccine
Three-day sickness vaccine (if in areas where this disease occurs)
Consult your veterinarians and draw up a policy for treating bulls on arrival and then annually.
All bulls should be drenched, treated for lice, vaccinated with 7-in-1 (leptospirosis and key clostridial diseases) and for vibriosis and pestivirus annually.
All bulls should be tested to ensure they are not persistently infected (PI) or carriers of pestivirus (BVDV).
Prevents the 5 common clostridial diseases (black leg, tetanus, pulpy kidney, black disease and malignant oedema) and leptospirosis
Prevents infertility and abortion and protects the unborn calf
Protects you, your family, your workers and your herd from leptospirosis
Protects against pestivirus – a major cause of infertility and abortion
Protect your herd by vaccinating all bulls annually
Zoetis Australia would like to thank and acknowledge the contribution and review of content provided by the ReptoActive Steering committee.
Dr John Wedd Ware
Senior Consultant, Mackinnon Project, Faculity of Veterinary Science, University of Melbourne, VIC
Dr Rod Manning
Davilak Pastoral Co, cattle consultant for M.S & A, Mansfield, VIC
Mr Mark Lucas
Consulting Agronomist, Rural Business Consultant, Pasture Agronomy Service, Tumut, NSW
1. Meat and Livestock Australia. Bulls. Available from http://www.mla.com.au/Livestock-production/Genetics-and-breeding/Cattle/Reproduction/Bulls,accessed September 2014.
2. Locke I and Locke D. Wirruna News 2011. Available from www.wirruna.com/documents/WIRRUNANEWSLETTER.pdf, accessed August 2014.
3. Data on file.
4. Beggs DS. Veterinary bull breeding soundness evaluation (VBBSE), 2013. QLD, Australia. Australian Cattle Veterinarians.
5. NSW Department of Primary Industries, 2006. Checking your bull is ready for joining. Primefact 249. Available from http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/88509/checking-your-bull-is-ready-for-joining.pdf, accessed October 2014.
6. Cummings B. Bull soundness – reproduction, NSW Department of Primary Industries, 1999. Available from http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/beef/breeding/bulls/reproductive-soundness, accessed December 2014.
7. Victoria, Department of Environment and Primary Industries, 2006. Management of bulls at mating. Available from http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/agriculture/beef-and-sheep/beef/breeding/management-of-bulls-at-breeding, accessed April 2013.
8. NSW Department of Primary Industries, 2005. Yearling bulls – tapping their immense potential. Available from http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/beef/breeding/bulls/yearling-bulls, accessed October 2014.
9. NSW Department of Primary Industries, 2004. Bringing your new bull home. Available from http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/beef/breeding/bulls/bull-management, accessed September 2014.