As breeding season approaches, there are a number of logistical and health-related challenges that beef cattle producers need to take into consideration to ensure the breeding soundness of their bulls.
Some of the logistical challenges that bulls face during breeding season include the amount of land they have to cover and the number of cows they need to breed. For spring calving operations, bulls will be breeding cows during the heat of the summer and will have the added challenge of heat stress. With fall calving operations, bulls may need more nutrients to maintain energy during the colder temperatures. If bulls are dealing with hoof problems, the logistical challenges of the breeding season will become even more difficult to overcome.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget about bulls in the offseason, but in reality, there may be no easier group of cattle to care for, as bulls are often closer to headquarters in the offseason. Plus, while bulls might only account for 5% of your herd, they account for 50% of the breeding equation, and they need special attention in the offseason.
Supplementing your beef cattle nutrition with performance trace minerals can help improve your bulls’ well-being and reproductive performance.
Cattle Hoof Problems Increase Challenges During the Breeding Season
Two of the most common hoof problems bulls face during breeding season include vertical fissures (also known as sand cracks) during drier pasture conditions and foot rot during wetter pasture conditions. Beef cattle producers have also started finding digital dermatitis in beef herds, but that is still limited.
During the breeding process, bulls support themselves on their back hooves. If they are in pain or lame due to hoof problems, they will not be as eager to pursue and breed cows that are in heat. Likewise, lame bulls are not going to cover as much ground in a day due to the pain they’re experiencing.
Lameness in beef cattle and other cattle hoof problems can trigger an inflammatory response, diverting energy and nutrients toward the immune response and away from reproduction and growth requirements in developing bulls.
Beef cattle reproduction is one of the lowest nutritional priorities for bulls, so any stress in bulls, including lameness and hoof health issues, can result in reduced semen quality and motility. Semen that is malformed won’t be able to penetrate the oocyte, and if it’s not motile, it may not even be able to reach the destination to fertilize the oocyte.
Performance Trace Minerals Improve Bull Performance
Beef cattle producers and nutritionists should supplement their bulls’ nutrition with the same performance trace minerals they are feeding to their cows. This will help build sound, resilient hooves for the breeding season.
Sound feet and legs allow bulls to cover more cows. Overall skeletal soundness relies on proper nutrition. Along with macro minerals like calcium and phosphorus, trace minerals like manganese, zinc and copper also directly affect bone and joint development.
Additionally, trace minerals are required for strong hoof and skin integrity, which is essential to preventing foot rot. Research has shown that supplementing grazing cattle with performance trace minerals decreased the incidence of foot rot by 30% to 57%.
Quality semen in ample quantities helps optimize cow conception rates and sets the stage for greater pregnancy rates and more weaned calves. However, bulls produce lower-quality semen during stress events, such as heat stress. The same performance trace minerals that improve beef cattle hoof integrity have been shown to improve semen quality and motility as well. Research shows that feeding Availa® 4 produces semen that is 9% more motile, 9% more progressive and 10% more rapid.
Supplementing bull nutrition with Zinpro Performance Minerals® can yield a strong return on investment. At a minimum, bulls should be fed 7 grams of Availa 4 or 12 grams of Availa® Plus per head, per day for optimal hoof development and reproductive performance. Larger, more mature bulls may require additional supplementation.
To learn how Availa 4 improves bull semen quality and the appropriate levels of performance trace mineral supplementation for your bull nutrition program, contact your Zinpro representative.