As bulls are making their way out to the cows, experts have some sage advice.
Agriculture instructor and cowherd manager at Hutchinson Community College, Pat Arkfeld, recently sent his bulls out to the pasture to join his cows. He monitors them regularly, checking their legs, weight and observing their demeanor, always making sure they remain healthy.
Extension educator at the University of Nebraska, Aaron Berger, said it is important to give bulls a Breeding Soundness Evaluation by a veterinarian at least 30 days prior to being turned out.
"They need to have adequate body condition scores," he said.
Continuous observation is key to avoiding problems.
"We don’t recommend putting older bulls out with younger bulls during the breeding season," Berger said. "Keep similar ages together to avoid bullying."
Beef cow-calf specialist at the University of Nebraska, Kacie McCarthy, Ph.D., said mature bulls are going to be a little more dominant. Also, McCarthy said, the younger bulls will need a little time to "figure out how things work." Because of this, ranchers should be careful not to overwork the young ones.
When it comes to all bulls, McCarthy recommends placing the bulls in a pen together beforehand so they can determine their pecking order.
"If they have to send multiple sires into the pasture, they should put them together first so they can determine social dominance to figure out who is the top dog," she said.
That way, when they go out to be with the cows, they will know where they stand and focus on the cows instead of each other.
It is always important to keep an eye on the animals.
"A good time to check the bulls is when you are checking on the salt and mineral in the pastures in the early morning or at dusk," Bob Weaber, Ph.D., beef cattle specialist with K-State Research and Extension said in a release. "If the bull isn’t with the cows but is off in another part of the pasture laying down, that is a concern."
Weaber, like Arkfeld warns ranchers to be careful with bulls, especially during this time of year. Weaber suggests riding in an ATV, pickup truck or by horseback.
"You always have to be cautious when working with animals," Arkfeld said. "You can’t go out and treat them like pets."
Sometimes, because the bulls have a lot of work ahead of them, they might exert a little too much energy.
"At the beginning of the breeding season, about 5% of the cows that aren’t pregnant will be in heat daily," said Kansas State University veterinarian Bob Larson during a Beef Cattle Institute Cattle Chat podcast.
McCarthy said ranchers should always be aware of their bulls legs. Common injuries for bulls in the pasture with the cows include lameness and broken genitalia, which can happen when the bull is mounting a female and another bull shows aggression toward him. If this happens, Weaber said, the bull will show swelling on his underline right in front of the scrotum.
Berger recommends ranchers pay attention to each bull. If a bull is starting to lose weight, he should be taken out of the field.
Arkfeld said he avoids renting his bulls, which include Angus and Cimarron cattle, to other ranchers.
"If he gets hurt there, I will not have him for my cows," he said.
Many, like Arkfeld, use artificial insemination to supplement the bulls. According to Larson, if the cows act as if they are not getting satisfied, it is time to call in a veterinarian to check on the bull.
After the season is over, Berger recommends yearlings be separated from older bulls, if possible. This way, they can gain their strength back.
"Younger bulls might need some additional care after the breading season," Berger said. "Make sure they are given adequate bunk space and feed."