January 2015
Feeding Facts

Let’s Talk a Little Bull … Nutrition

By the time you read this, we will have slipped slowly but surely into winter. The holidays are over, our favorite college football teams are winding their seasons down and we are entering a downright challenging time of the year for our cattle operations. For those of you who have fall calving herds, I hope you have a supply of our Brood Cow Supplement to keep their body condition score high enough to successfully get them rebred, and, for those operations that are calving in winter and early spring, don’t forget to supplement your cows. It will pay huge dividends in the long run.

Another annual event around the Southeast in the fall is the numerous bull sales. Many of the larger seed stock operations have sales this time of year. There are also numerous performance (bull test) and consignment sales that allow commercial cattlemen to select their genetic direction for the next year or two. Most of these sales offer bulls that are 12-24 months in age. Some sales also offer mature bulls or, as my neighbor advertised, "used bulls."

First, let’s talk about the bulls that are 24 months in age or less. These bulls are still basically adolescents or, as they would relate to humans, teenagers to just-leaving college. Most of these bulls have been on an elevated plane of nutrition. Most of the rations they are fed are heavy with grain, 68-72 percent TDN and about 12 percent protein. The common management practice is to feed this ration through a self-feeder. When the bulls are sold, they are generally over-conditioned. While frustrating to the purchaser, pretty, fat bulls always seem to sell better. No one wants to take home an ugly, thin bull to turn out into the front pasture.

These young bulls, especially those under 16 months, need to see little-to-no breeding activity until they are around 24 months and closer to maturity. If it is a must, these bulls could be used on 10-15 cows with little trouble. However, if you chose to turn your teenage athlete out with little or no nutrition, realize that he is going to lose weight and must be fed during a recovery period once the breeding season is over. If you plan to use your $6,000 investment successfully over multiple breeding seasons, it is in your best interest to provide him with a high level of nutrition during a recovery phase after the breeding season.

Now that we have identified this major problem, and, believe me, it is a very common problem. When using young fat bulls, how do we solve it? The solution is simple. After the breeding season, isolate your bull in a small lot and simply feed him. The lot should be large enough that the bull can exercise. The bull should be supplied with plenty of forage or hay, clean water and supplemental feed. Ideally the bull will be fed once or twice a day. Many will now ask, "What should I feed?" The answer lies at your local Quality Co-op store. There are several feeds the Co-op blends that can properly rehab your bull. Look at feeds in both the Formax and CPC lines containing 12 percent protein. Most any of these feeds, fed at a rate of 15-20 pounds per day, will restore your bulls’ weight and condition without getting them too fat. The new Brood Cow Supplement feed will also accomplish this goal.

Second, we will talk about mature bulls or those 24 months or older. While these bulls are for all practical purposes mature and through growing, they still need rehab periods. Mature bulls that lose too much body condition run the risk of being sterile for some period of time. It is important for these bulls to maintain their body condition to remain fertile and settle cows. With calf prices remaining at all-time highs, it is important to get as many calves on the ground as possible in order to maximize profits. In other words, let’s make hay while the sun shines.

We talked earlier about rehabbing young bulls. Old bulls are rehabbed in exactly the same way; however, the protein content of the feed is less important. Just make sure you are providing enough energy to allow the bull to gain weight and add body condition. Most bulls need to be slightly over-conditioned before going to work because it is inevitable that they are going to lose weight and condition while breeding cows.

With the current cost of genetics, it is in each producer’s best interest to take care of and protect his investment. When the rehab period begins, producers should also take time to deworm and provide any vaccinations recommended by their local veterinarian. Remember all of those products can be picked up when you get your feed at your local Co-op store.

So take some time to protect your investment and provide good luck to that bull for several breeding seasons.

Stephen Donaldson is AFC’s animal nutritionist. You can reach him at 256-476-5272 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..