- Autumn stud season tipped to have outstanding sale results
- Breakdown rates in bulls can be minimised through adequate property induction
- Leading veterinarian urges producers to turn over 15 to 20 per cent of bulls per annum
STRATEGIC induction regimes and ongoing maintenance programs to underwrite sire longevity have been identified by a leading livestock veterinarian as fundamental to ensuring producers achieve maximum value from their genetic investments this bull selling season.
The advice, from formative southern Australia reproductive services provider, Dr Shane Thomson, HVC Production and Breeding, comes following the exceptional beginning of the Autumn sale period and in anticipation of another year of strong cattle prices.
“Bulls are an investment in genetics, and those genetic traits drive the income of beef businesses,” Dr Thomson said.
“That’s why management to ensure bull longevity is so important, because they are ultimately responsible for creating your end product.”
Aligning with genetics
Before making a bid this season, Dr Thomson urged buyers to delve deeper into the genetic programs of the seedstock producers they are considering sourcing sires from to find a breeding system which mirrored their own production goals — as a starting point for bull selection.
“Too often we see people aligned with buying cattle which possibly don’t match their own production system,” Dr Thomson said.
“Producers need to clearly understand their own breeding goals and carefully align themselves with a seedstock producer, or herd, which has similar breeding objectives.
“For instance, if you are running a self-replacing system where you turn off feeder steers, it would be best to look for genetics which have a low-birthing weight for ease of calving and explosive growth, as opposed to selecting genetics which produce large, heavy-maturing cattle.
“Ensuring you purchase from a breeding program that matches your own production goals is the best method to invest in genetics which will put money back into your pocket.”
Dr Thomson recommended producers consider turning over 15 to 20 per cent of their bull group per annum.
“If you are not buying new bulls each year, the average age of your bull team is becoming older,” he said.
“Then, you will reach a point where you need to get rid of a high percentage of your older bulls and bring in a large portion of younger bulls, and younger bulls are more prone to breakdown.
“The breakdown rate in virgin bulls is pushing forty per cent during their first season, and a significant proportion of that is coming from penile injuries, due to a condition called Balanoposthitis.”
These types of injuries, however, can be minimised through the implementation of considered bull induction programs.
“Careful induction is crucial. It’s important to avoid buying a bull and having him walk straight off the truck and directly into his joining herd,” Dr Thomson said.
“Best practice is to buy your bull ahead of schedule to get him on-farm, where they can adapt to the new environment and pastures, and then be exposed to some of the females.”
Every cow group has a unique population of pathogens in the reproductive tract and it is ideal to expose bulls to those pathogens, so they can build immunity, while their workload is low.
“For instance, by leaving your new bull in a paddock with some cull females, he can build immunity during a period of low workload, so he has developed immunity by the commencement of the joining period,” he said.
“Our rule of thumb is to try to get your bull three months ahead of schedule, to give you time to expose him for six weeks with a small group of females, then rest him for another six weeks, before he starts work with his joining herd.”
Supporting longevity through maintenance
Finally, Dr Thomson said a maintenance program to ensure bulls were in top working order was another necessity.
“Producers need to understand it’s the bull’s job to be a sexual athlete,” he said.
“You can’t ask an animal to run a marathon for two months of the year, when he is on the couch for the other ten. You want to keep him in condition and ensure his body weight is under control, so he can jump off the blocks when it’s time to start.”
Regular testing and monitoring were the most effective way to ensure a bull’s health, he said.
“I believe you should have a pre-joining fertility test on every bull, every year,” Dr Thomson said.
“This is a test with variable components, which costs between fifty to one hundred dollars and the gold standard fertility assessment includes a physical, semen and serving ability test, so it’s not a huge commitment to make.
“Although the bull you buy would have been tested before sale, that doesn’t mean he will remain that way for the duration of his life – he can acquire an issue the next day.
“Ultimately, it’s not the bull’s fault if he has an injury, it’s a fraction of the process, and learning about it, doing your best to prevent it, and then treating it when it happens, is the best method.
A remarkable start to selling in 2022
In the month of February, more than 800 Hereford bulls and females will be auctioned at stud sales across the country and Kathleen Allan, Herefords Australia’s Breed and Business Development Manager, described the early-season results as ‘remarkable’.
“With national herd rebuilding efforts underway, beef producers have turned to Hereford genetics for proven performance in both grain and grassfed operations,” Ms Allan said.
“Already, Hereford seedstock operators have reported exceptional clearance rates and high averages, which sets a great pace for the 2022 season.
“Ease of calving, explosive growth and significant hybrid vigour are favourable Hereford traits drawing more and more producers to the breed.”