Care of a Stud Bull

By Dr Douglas Bruce

Considering the genetics of the bull is the most important factor when buying a bull. Your stud bull determines the genetic direction and improvement of your cow herd. It is therefore important that you have a clear vision of what you want your cow herd to do for you, what body type you want (tall and lanky, short or midway between), what you wish to sell (heavy weaners for sale of weaners, fast-maturing types for feedlots or slower-growing types for veld rearing), and what and how you supplementary feed your herd in winter (crop residues, veld, browse, feedlots, vleis, etc) and even what colour and type of coat you want. These are factors which help you select a breed and your bull breeder.

“Your stud bull is an expensive and critical investment. His failure can be likened to crop failure. Pay attention to his needs and ensure he is fertile”

After the acquisition of a good bull, one has to be vigilant in keeping the bull healthy. Tick control, worm control and vaccinations are to be closely monitored. For tick control, your bull has to be dipped weekly in summer and every two weeks during the three cold months in winter. If he is kept totally tick-free, he is consequently not susceptible to tick-borne diseases such as Heartwater, Redwater, Theileriosis and Gall Sickness. It is imperative that you check with the seller to determine the bull’s dipping history so his tick-free status can be maintained or he could become infected by a tick-borne disease. Ensure that you thoroughly agitate your dip-wash by dipping 25 head then returning them to be re-dipped in the now agitated wash or ensure that he is hand-sprayed correctly. If your bull has access to open natural water (vleis, rivers) or snail infested troughs, it is advisable to combine a liver-fluke remedy with your routine roundworm treatment. Do a fecal egg count on fresh feces to check on worm status or strategically dose in September/October (i.e. before the bulling season). It is recommended that you vaccinate against diseases prevalent in your area. Consult your veterinary surgeon for advice. The recommended vaccinations that your bull should receive are as follows;

  • Quarter evil
  • Botulism
  • Anthrax
  • Lumpy Skin Disease.
  • Consider Rift Valley Fever and Three Day Gall Sickness if there is a risk

For general upkeep, your bull will require access to a salt and phosphate lick in summer and a kilogram or two of high protein concentrate to supplement veld grazing in winter to ensure that he enters the breeding season in good body condition. To remain functionally efficient, i.e. to get around, to find and successfully serve your cows year after year, it is important you observe your bull, particularly in the breeding season. Watch for any painful eye conditions, lameness, rapid weight loss or injury, particularly to the sheath, testes, and genitalia. Observe him successfully mounting, penetrating and ejaculating. Train the farms’ stockmen to watch and check if the bull is performing satisfactorily. Many stud bulls prematurely break down (are no longer functionally efficient) due to inadequate care. It is recommended that all working bulls be examined by your veterinary surgeon for breeding soundness six to eight weeks before the breeding season. It is always a good idea to buy bulls that have been checked for breeding soundness prior to purchase.

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