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Fodder crisis is no excuse for neglecting your bull

The ongoing harsh weather has forced the fodder shortage to a crisis point on many livestock farms. In a lot of cases, concentrates are being fed to supplement or replace the missing forage. While it is important that breeding cows, young animals and fattening stock are sufficiently fed, it is also important that the breeding bull is not neglected.

It is vital to have this animal in good condition for the upcoming breeding season. The old adage that the bull is half the herd is certainly true. Many bulls are showing the side effects of last year and in a lot of cases the situation isn't being helped by over-reliance on poor quality forages throughout the past winter.

It is generally the case that the breeding bull is either housed in a confined area on slats, out-buildings or on a sacrificed paddock close to the yard. It's often a case of out of sight, out of mind with regard to the breeding bull.

Simply leaving poor quality pit or baled silage in front of the bull for days on end is not good practice. Increasing the energy and mineral supplementation at this time of year will show improvements in the animal's vitality and sperm production come the breeding season. Feeding an appropriate level of fish oils, protected selenium, copper and zinc have been shown to have similar beneficial effects. The most effective way of supplementing the bull's mineral requirements would be to include them along with the concentrate feed.

If the bull has lost condition since separation from the cows last summer it is urgently necessary to build up the animal's reserves again. Most Continental-bred mature bulls will exceed 750kg, so to build body condition and reserves for the breeding season it may be necessary to feed them rates of 5-7kg for 4-5 weeks.

The mature breeding bull hasn't a huge requirement for protein so a mix of cereals, pulp and soya bean to create a 14pc protein mix is most suitable. Younger bulls that have not fully grown yet have a higher protein requirement and the mix will need to be formulated with a 16pc protein content.

Any lameness issues should now be dealt with to allow 2-3 weeks recovery before the commencement of duty for breeding cows. Even if the bull is not lame, routine foot paring would still be advisable prior to the bull running with the cows. Where hoof infection is the issue, a foot-bath on a number of occasions might just correct the situation.

Bull fertility can be a big problem, especially with young or newly purchased bulls. Prior to selling, these animals are often fed high rates of concentrate to get them into 'sale condition'.

When they arrive in their new surroundings, neither the same environment nor the same concentrate is now available.

When this is added to the stress of the move and introduction to a new cow herd, it can result in poor performance from the bull. Therefore, a newly purchased young bull should be gradually introduced to the cow herd.

Ideally, the new purchase should get 5-6 weeks acclimatisation to its new surroundings and, in particular, the new feeding regime. Too often the newly arrived young bull is let off the trailer straight to work with the cows. A recent sickness in an animal can render a previously proven bull temporarily infertile.

If this occurs, the bull should be appropriately treated and rested. A replacement bull should be used at this stage. At all times, the bull should be kept under close observation when he is with the cows to ensure he is fit for the job.

If there are clear signs that there is a problem with the bull, then he should be replaced. This may only be a short-term issue due to lameness, hurts or stress and should not be taken as a bull needing permanent removal from the herd.

Young, immature bulls should be placed with no more than 20 cows initially.

More mature, proven bulls will easily handle 40 cows.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist and can be contacted at

Irish Independent