Hayden Dorman and Jessie Chan came onto the Rakaia farm as lower order sharemilkers in 2009. Within two years they had purchased the herd and now lease the farm.
Having enough bulls when cows are likely to be on heat is important in ensuring good reproductive performance. The number of bulls required will depend on the number of cows or yearling heifers likely to come on heat while the bulls are with the group.
Run one yearling bull per 20 yearling heifers at all times to cover the poorer performance of yearling bulls. Ensure there are always at least two sexually active bulls running with each mob throughout the mating period. Bulls are typically run with yearling heifers on an all-in basis. A few extra bulls should be available in case any need to be replaced. The ratio should be about one bull to 15-20 heifers.
If you are using heat synchrony, and returns will occur when bulls are running, you need to estimate the minimum number of bulls running with cattle during this period (using one bull per 10 non-pregnant cows).
Alternatively, recommence heat detection and AB for three or four days, starting 19 days after the previously synchronised insemination.
To make sure bulls are sexually mature and able to serve, bulls need to be well grown. By the time a bull reaches 14-15 months, they should have achieved 50% of their mature weight. This should increase to 85% by two years of age.
To maintain the health of bulls and all other animals, ensure that bulls receive the same vaccination programme as the heifers and cows. Develop a drenching programme with your vet as well.
Before bulls arrive on farm they need to be kept in good body condition, particularly in the three months prior to their mating start date. Several weeks before the bulls will be used, make any required diet changes to ensure bulls are not too fat or too thin. They should be in body condition score 4.5 to 5.5 prior to mating. Body condition score bulls well before mating to give you time to make diet changes.
Consider veterinary examination of bulls at least a month before the bulls start work. Examinations range from a physical exam, to a serving ability test, or a full assessnent of semen quality. Good bull management will ensure bulls are well adjusted to their environment before mating and have been through a biosecurity quarantine. Bulls should be moved to the farm between two to three months and ten days before they are required to work. Split the bulls into teams for rotating (half resting, half working) to reduce fighting.
- Check for any injuries that may have occurred during transport
- Quarantine for 10 days and observe for any disease or walking defects
- Trim hooves if necessary
- Walk among them observing for any individuals showing aggression or 'stalking' behaviour, especially Jersey bulls - they may not be suitable to run with the milking herd.
Bull management during mating
When bulls are running with the herd, you can take several steps to increase bull activity and reduce health risks.
Regularly observe bulls serving to ensure they are serving correctly. Immediately remove bulls that are unable to serve properly and replace them with more capable bulls.
Monitor bulls for lameness each day. Remove lame bulls immediately and replace with healthy bulls. If bulls go lameor get sick they will need to be replaced for the rest of mating. Infections, antibiotic treatment, and elevated temperatures effect sperm production for 30+ days making them ineffective for use.
Do not allow bulls to enter the concrete milking yard with the milking herd as concrete can cause excessive hoof wear and lameness. To further reduce the risk of bull lameness and injury to bulls, cows and farm staff - train bulls to remain in the paddock when cows are brought to milkings. Identify bulls with reflective tape or some other means for easy location of bulls in the dark. It usually takes just two to three days to train bulls to hang back and let the cows go down the race.
In larger herds, there may be too many bulls hiding among too many cows to draft out in the paddock or race. The only alternative is to draft at the dairy shed. In this case, allow for extra bulls to replace those who go lame or stop cows moving on the race.
When Choosing Bulls:
- Select bulls from a bull rearer of leasing service with a reputation of growing and delivering healthy bulls. Query what disease exposure bulls may have had like Thieleria or BVD. Insist on bulls certified free of M. bovis TB, BVD, IBR and EBL, and blood test negative for Johne's Disease.
- Insist on bulls certified fully vaccinated for leptospirosis and BVD. They must have been vaccinated twice initially, four weeks apart and then boosted with a single shot annually or each of these diseases.
- Use bulls that are no more than three years old. Older bulls can be temperamental, difficult to manage and are more likely to have injuries to the penis, back or legs. They increase the risk of injury to both the cattle and to the people working with them.
- Choose virgin bulls whenever possible as they are less likely to introduce venereal diseases to the herd; but avoid using bulls that are less than 15 months old. If using non-virgin bulls, discuss testing for the venereal diseases, Trichomoniasis and Campylobacter with your vet.
- Use bulls that are likely to minimise the number of calvings requiring assistance, especially with the heifers.
- Select bulls ideally from the same mob. This will reduce fighting when they are with the herd. Otherwise the bulls need to arrive earlier to establish their social order well before mating start date.
- Exclude fully horned bulls and those with deformed feet.
- Select bulls of similar size to the cows or heifers to be mated. If bulls are substantially heavier than the cows or heifers (e.g. >100kg heavier) then injuries to both bulls and cows are more likely.
- Observe bulls serving tall cows; ensure they are able to serve correctly. Also observe larger bulls serving cows. If the cows collapse under the weight, find lighter bulls.
Article - DairyNZ