All too often we concentrate on cows when we are focused on fertility in suckler herds. But the stock bull should not be overlooked and, at this time of year, he's about to launch into his most active time. An evaluation of a bull's soundness for breeding should be completed to decide which animal is an optimal fertile bull and which is below par.
Lameness is a very important part of that assessment, as any pain in the feet will greatly affect bull performance. Lifting and examining bulls' feet is fraught with difficulties but this should not deter us from the task. Modern jeep-drawn handling crates have greatly eased the task, and a good hoof trim and foot examination is due on any stock bull before the breeding time begins.
The purchase of a new stock bull should be a well prepared act on any farm. We must not fall into the pitfall of expecting high performance from a young unproven bull just before the season starts, and avoid quickly or hurriedly introducing him to the entire herd.
A young bull needs time to acclimatise to his new environment.
He needs to be left in an isolation area to treat or assess any disease threat. Infectious foot rot, BVD, IBR and even Johnes disease should be checked and dealt with before moving the bull closer to the herd.
Worms, fluke and skin parasites should also be dealt with at this time.
A young bull needs to assert his dominance on his new group and should not be exposed to a bullying dominant cow or the chief stock bull until he is firmly on his feet. Introduce him for a few weeks to a small paddock with one or two quiet cows before releasing him on to the larger batch.
Purchasing from a known Johne's-free herd is ideal, but these can be difficult to source.
• Check all stock bulls now to assess their ability to carry out their duties.
• Emphasis on good hoof trimming and avoidance of lameness is paramount.
• Use a foot bath where known infectious foot rot is present on the farm.
• Prepare well when purchasing a new stock bull.
• Try to source from a Johne's-free herd.
• Take a few weeks to allow the new bull a steady introduction to any sizeable batch.
• Don't forget the bull in any vaccination programme before the mating season starts.
• Check an incoming bull for BVD, IBR and Johne's disease as well as for the compulsory testing of brucellosis and TB.
• TB test an incoming bull if his last test was more than three months ago but less than 12 months ago. This is just a precautionary prudent practice point.
• Administer worm, fluke and lice treatment to the incoming bull before moving him into contact with the herd.