Managing bulls for long-term profitability

2 April 2024

Bulls are an essential investment for livestock farmers, but they can also be a costly one. During a Kgalagadi farmers’ day organised by his brother, Duncan Serapelwane, at Taylor Span farm in Heuningvlei, Tebogo Serapelwane, the chief research technician at Vryburg bull testing station, spoke to farmers about the critical role of managing their investments for long-term profitability.

According to Tebogo, to maintain a balanced herd it’s recommended that a farmer’s bull population accounts for 3% of the total herd; equivalent to three to four bulls for every 100 cows. 

He said bulls contribute 50% of the genetic material for all calves, so their impact on the herd cannot be underestimated. “However, adding a bull to the livestock comes with a significant cost, with registered bulls with desirable traits starting at R55 000.” 

Tebogo explained that the care of a bull begins with its relocation from the point of purchase to the farm. It’s important to ensure that the transportation meets the necessary standards and is suitable. The trailer should be in proper working order and suitable for travel. Neglecting the maintenance of the trailer can lead to disastrous accidents. 

For the best results, it’s recommended to buy a bull two months before the start of the breeding season. This allows the bull to familiarise itself with its new environment, which is particularly important if it has come from a faraway place. 

The stress of transportation can delay the production of quality semen for four to six weeks. Introducing the bull to the cows as soon as it arrives can cause trauma that may affect the bull’s well-being in the long run. It’s best to acquire the bull two months in advance of the breeding season to prevent this from happening. 

To ensure bulls are in prime condition for auctions, farmers often provide additional feed. Starting the bull on a supplementary feed, such as Phase D, as soon as it arrives at the farm, and gradually decreasing the amount until the bull has adjusted to the farm’s feed, can help. 

Once two months have passed and the new animal has settled on the farm, it’s important to include it in the animal health plan and provide it with vitamins before allowing it to join the cows. Regularly examining the bull, rather than simply leaving it with the cows, is important. It’s crucial to watch the bull closely and confirm that it’s mating with the cows. Farmers should avoid relying on luck for a favourable outcome by allowing bulls to run freely with the cows. 

When working with a group of more than 30 cows and introducing two bulls, it’s important to pair them by different ages. Combining bulls of the same age into one herd can lead to fighting and hinder their ability to serve the cows. Pairing younger bulls with older ones can prevent this. 

Bulls also require regular servicing, similar to cars. After the mating season, it’s important to service the bulls by taking them out and providing them with good supplements so they can recover and return to their best condition.

You can watch the video of Tebogo Serapelwane’s presentations on our Videos page. < https://www.africanfarming.com/video/>

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