Bull testing prevents disasters in cattle business

Bruce Schultz, Granger, Andrew L., Dutile, Stanley J., Scaglia, Guillermo  |  11/4/2009 9:26:56 PM

Cattle producers attending an LSU AgCenter Cattle Field Day listen to Stan Dutile, LSU AgCenter extension agent in Lafayette Parish, give details on a bull fertility testing program. (Photo by Bruce Schultz)

Cattle producers at an LSU AgCenter Cattle Field Day at Dominique’s Stockyard in Carencro write their answers for a test on hay quality. The testing quizzed participants on their ability to select the best and worst quality hay from round and square bales. (Photo by Bruce Schultz)

News Release Distributed 11/04/09

CARENCRO, La. – Having bulls tested for reproductive soundness is a simple precautionary measure that could prevent a disastrous year for a cattle producer, said Stan Dutile, LSU AgCenter extension agent in Lafayette Parish.

Dutile was among the speakers at a cattle field day here on Oct. 31. More than 100 people attended the event.

A problem cow would affect one calf, but a bull with low reproductive potential could ruin an entire year, Dutile said. The best times for testing are 30-60 days before the breeding season, immediately after breeding and at weaning time.

The risk of waiting until just before breeding is that a replacement bull may be difficult to find. Even a bull with poor eyesight can have limited capability because it could be dominated by other bulls, Dutile said.

Dutile advised producers to keep a close watch on their cows to see if they repeatedly go into estrus."If these cows come back in heat, then there's a problem," he said.

Dutile said data he has collected from the bull breeding soundness testing he has coordinated from 1996 through 2009 shows a range of 5 percent unsatisfactory in 2005 to as high as 37 percent unsatisfactory in 2006. Of 440 bulls tested during the past 13 years, 70 bulls – or 16 percent – were rated unsatisfactory.

Dutile said he will add a body condition scoring component to the test this year.

Dutile started the bull program in 1996 with Dominique’s Stockyard and the Lafayette Cattlemen’s Association to provide fertility testing at a reduced cost. Because of the number of bulls being tested at the event, veterinarians perform the testing at a discounted rate of $35 per bull. Producers also save money because veterinarians are traveling to only one location rather than to individual farms.

Dutile said that while bulls are being restrained in the working chute for the fertility testing, additional testing for the venereal disease, trichomoniasis, is also being recommended. During the past year an outbreak of the disease in east Texas and west Louisiana has occurred, and Acadiana producers should be vigilant in managing to keep it out of their herds.

The infection is passed from the bull to cows at mating and causes abortions, he said. A virgin bull will not have to be tested, but he said buyers of mature bulls should require a negative test for disease before they finalize the purchase.

Cattle producers also heard from Mike Dominique of Dominique's Stockyard where the field day was held.

"My job is to get the most money for you," Dominique said.

He said heavier calves are fetching more money because feed lots won't have to spend as much money on feed to finish those animals. “As long as corn prices are high, that will hold true. They all have an order for the good ones," Dominique said.

He said producers should aim for cattle that appeal to buyer's preferences. "Color is a factor. Black and yellow seem to be top of the market."

Dominique said buyers want no more than one-fourth Brahman influence.

Dominique said in the past, owners of small fields would buy calves passed over by large buyers and raise the animals for their own consumption. Now, that segment of the market has disappeared, he said.

Dominique said buyers will pay more for bull calves that have been castrated (steers) and vaccinated.

"We've got to do what the cattlemen are doing in other states," he said.

Guillermo Scaglia, LSU AgCenter ruminant nutritionist at the Iberia Research Station, said cattle producers should know the nutrient content of hay being fed to their herds.

Cattle will eat less of lower quality hay, he said. Cattle will eat 1.5 percent of their body weight in low quality hay, but they will consume 2.3-2.5 percent of their body weight with high quality hay.

Eating less hay means they won't get the necessary amount of protein and other nutrients they need, he said.

Cattle producer Hank Moss of Henry described his stocker operation that he started after Hurricane Ike, which ruined his rice and crawfish fields with heavy salt contamination.

Moss said he had run a cow-calf operation before but decided to try his hand at being a stocker.

"He was brave enough to invest in the big dollars," said Andrew Granger, LSU AgCenter extension agent in Vermilion Parish.

Moss said he bought a group of 98 heifer calves from South Florida, gradually introducing them to ryegrass that he had grown on his fields that had been decimated by the Hurricane Ike storm surge. The calves were one-fourth Brahman with Angus and Braford influence.

Granger said it looked as though the fields had been sprayed with RoundUp. The ryegrass had no competition from other plants, he said.

Moss said he drilled the ryegrass seed in late October. "That grass sprouted right away and popped up out of the ground," he said.

He said the 75-acre pasture was divided into four paddocks. The calves eventually were allowed to graze for eight hours a day. When they first arrived and as they were being introduced to the pasture, they were fed on Purina Accuration.

The calves weighed an average of 488 pounds when they were bought in November and 755 pounds when they were sold in May.

Moss said he profited from good weather and good luck. "We stuck to our plan and everything seemed to work out," he said.

Bruce Schultz
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