Bringing new bulls home from sale
Spring is bull sale season and a good time to plan for a smooth transition when you bring your new bull home. Whether you purchase one or several new bulls, it's worth considering what you can do to ensure your new investment gets off to a favourable start and reaches his full breeding potential.
Bulls are usually handled more frequently in the lead-up to the sale period, as they are prepared and inspected, therefore sale time can cause considerable amounts of stress for bulls.
Post-sale, transporting bulls to their new home can often result in further stress. It is common for bulls to be trucked long distances to a new location – often interstate. The impact of travel and confinement, often with unfamiliar animals, plus variable weather or climatic changes, could contribute to their stress and fatigue levels.
In the stud, most bulls are run in large herds, and other than going into a sale pen they would rarely have been alone. Therefore, when your new bull arrives home, it is strongly advised to have a handful of steers or pregnant cows either in a yard or a small paddock that the bull can be introduced to. The idea is to recreate the sense of herd protection while the new arrival adapts and settles in. This process could take several days or even weeks. It's important to provide adequate feed, water and shelter during this time. If you have purchased bulls from different properties, it is advised to avoid socialising them together at this early stage.
When purchasing, make enquiries on how the bulls have been handled on their property of origin. For example, are the new bulls familiar with dogs, motorbikes or horses? Having this information will help you handle them in their new environment.
Ask which health treatments the bull has received. If they have not been treated prior, all bulls should be vaccinated and/or drenched with:
- a 5-in-1 vaccine or 7-in-1 (if in areas where leptospiriosis exist)
- vibriosis vaccine
- pestivirus if it is concern to your herd, discuss with your veterinarian
- worm and lice control (should be drenched four to six weeks prior to joining).
It is good on-farm biosecurity practice to consult with your veterinarian or animal health officer and draw up a policy for treating bulls on arrival and then annually.
Give particular attention to preventing new bulls bringing vibriosis into a herd. Vibriosis is a sexually transmitted disease that causes infertility and abortions and can be introduced to a clean herd by an infected bull. Infected bulls show no signs of the illness.
Vaccinated bulls are free from vibriosis, so vaccinating against the disease should be routine practice. This involves two injections, four to six weeks apart, at the time of introduction, and then a booster shot every year. Complete the vaccinations four weeks before joining.
Relocation-induced depressed fertility
When bulls suffer a drop in their fertility levels post-sale this is described as relocation-induced depressed fertility (RDF). A Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) report titled Bull Power considers RDF to be a significant issue for many cattle producers. It suggests there can be several different causes of RDF that may occur during transport, or soon after arrival at the new property. The stress of transport has been suggested to be very similar in effect to elevated testicular temperatures. This can cause testicular changes and may influence the morphology of the bull's semen as a result.
RDF was initially considered to affect bulls travelling longer distances and being relocated into more challenging environments. However, the research suggests RDF can equally be an issue with bulls being moved over shorter distances and into environments that were not necessarily harsh or challenging.
The research found up to half of the bulls in the trial failed the Bull Breeding Soundness Examination (BBSE) in the three months after the sale. The principal causes of many of the failures of these bulls to pass their BBSE after arrival appeared to be directly related to nutritional stress. Bulls that lost significant body condition also had a reduction in scrotal circumference. The data found a high proportion of bulls with significant loss of body condition and scrotal size produced semen with less than 50 per cent normal sperm.
However, it was also found when nutrition and body condition improved, they recovered their fertility. RDF was usually a problem within the first six months of arriving at a new location. Another key finding of note was British breeds, Bos tarus, appeared to suffer significant drops in fertility as a result of poor nutrition. Therefore, high-quality feed should be on offer when the bull arrives at his new location.
The stresses of sale, transport and adjusting to a new location may take some time for bulls to recover. By planning to minimise the impacts of these factors you will potentially reduce the period of time where bulls may be less fertile. Looking after your bull during the initial stages of his working life should ensure longevity and success within your breeding herd.