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A herd of cattle walking through a field during sunset in the winter

Winter bull management

By Lance Kennington, Ph.D., animal nutritionist, CHS

October 20, 2023

Reconditioning and developing bulls over the winter is key.

Bulls tend to be the most neglected part of the herd, as they don’t contribute much to the operation after breeding season. However, getting them into shape and keeping them healthy is critical to the profitability of any operation. Winter is the best time to condition bulls for the spring and summer breeding season. Now is the time to look at your bull wintering program.

Young versus old bulls

Bulls that have been out on pasture for the summer will most likely come into the fall thin and will need to put on weight to achieve a desired body condition score of 5 to 7. Younger bulls should be managed separately than older bulls because they will still be growing and will not be able to compete with the more dominant bulls. Older bulls may injure younger bulls and will also try to push them away from feed resources. Managing them separately will ensure their continued growth, development, and lifetime breeding potential.

Herd of cattle behind a fence-line in winter

Younger bulls should gain about two pounds per head per day. This can be done using a diet around 40-42 Mcal of NEg or around 30 percent concentrate to 70 percent roughage. It is important to remember that young bulls are still growing. Older bulls need about half the concentrate of younger bulls to get back into shape. They are finished growing, so the energy they consume can be used for conditioning and not growth.

Make sure the bulls have plenty of space. If they are crowded they tend to want to fight and could injure themselves. Be sure and bed them when the weather gets cold.

Balanced nutrition

Like any class of cattle, bulls need a balanced trace mineral and vitamin supplement to ensure semen quality during their spring breeding soundness exam. Research has shown that feeding flax oil through supplements such as FlaxLic® tubs or Power Booster Bull Challenger will improve semen quality1.

Two bulls eating hay from a trough

Bulls also need a 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio and plenty of good, clean water. A diet that is 12% protein for older bulls and 14% protein for young bulls will ensure there is enough protein to put on muscle as well as growth for the young bulls.

Bulls contribute a tremendous amount to the genetics of the herd and need to be properly cared for to ensure their longevity and productivity in the herd. Proper nutrition and management during winter is essential to maintain fertile, active bulls.

1 Pesta, A.C.; Drouillard, J. S. FlaxLic supplementation improves growth performance of Angus bulls. Kansas State University. Cattlemen’s Day 2010, Beef Cattle Research.

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