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To Bull or Not to Bull: Keeping a Bull on a Small Farm?

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Behold the arrival of spring, the season of rebirth and renewal! The bright sun casts its warm, inviting glow on the world as birds fill the air with their sweet melodies and playful calves bound about in the pastures.

Soon, the cattle will graze on the lush greenery, marking the onset of summer. In our previous discussion, we explored an array of inquiries that potential bull owners might have.

We delved into a wealth of topics, from discerning what traits to look for in a bull to determining where to purchase one to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of investing in a bull versus artificial insemination.

In today’s continuation of this series, I am delighted to share further insights from a local rancher, my esteemed brother-in-law, Kordell Krispense. If you are pondering investing in a bull to expand your herd, read on for more valuable considerations.

As an individual frequently contacted with questions about bulls, I often encounter people who ask me point-blank: “Should I keep a bull?” But the reality is that there is no easy answer to this question.

It involves a multitude of considerations and variables that require careful navigation. I always begin by listening to their concerns and then guiding them through the process of weighing their options of having a bull on their property versus not having one.

Let me start by saying that I have personally kept up to three mature bulls at once – a miniature Hereford and two miniature Jerseys, although I usually keep two. Our farm comprises two pieces of land, totaling about 80 acres – the house land and the beef land.

Two of the bulls mentioned above were kept at the beef land in a massive, secluded pasture unless we needed to separate them and introduce cows for breeding. This setup was necessary because both bulls posed a credible and immediate danger to humans.

The third bull, kept at the house land, was milder but still a bull. He could sometimes be very destructive and moody, flipping troughs, throwing dirt, and testing fence lines, but he was not overtly threatening.

When considering whether to keep a bull, there are myriad factors to weigh.

The Pros and Cons of Keeping a Bull on a Small Farm

Breeding cows using artificial insemination (AI) is an option for small farms with a few beef or dairy cows. However, owning a bull can be advantageous, even on a small farm.

AI requires a professional to visit your property and monitor your cows for signs of heat. This process can be expensive and may require multiple attempts to achieve pregnancy, making it costly in the long run.

On the other hand, a bull is instinctively aware of the timing of heat, allowing for more successful breeding without additional expenses. However, bulls require safety precautions due to their unpredictable nature around cows or strangers.

Additionally, bulls can be noisy, and their vocalizations can disrupt the peace on your property. Fencing can also be an issue since bulls tend to fight with neighboring bulls and break down fences.

Keeping a bull for a few years until his offspring are old enough to breed and then replacing him with a secondhand bull can be a cost-effective way of maintaining your herd’s breeding process.

Older bulls are more experienced and calmer, making them ideal for small farms. In summary, while AI is an option for small farms, owning a bull is beneficial in terms of cost and success rate, provided that proper safety measures are taken.

Keeping a Bull on a Small Farm
Credit: Hobby Farms

The Importance of Proper Handling and Respectful Distance with Bulls

Bulls are inherently dangerous and unpredictable, even the gentle ones. They can turn on you when their hormones or attitudes get the best of them; when they do, you may not have a chance to escape.

Regardless of what people tell you, there is no such thing as a “pet” bull. Even bulls that have been raised from birth, and some that have been bottle-fed, have attacked and killed their handlers without warning.

The most dangerous bulls have been raised as pets, as they are comfortable invading your space, seeking attention or treats. Bulls often give no warning before attacking, and they can be cunning, waiting and watching for an opportunity to strike.

Bulls are smart, unpredictable, and not to be trusted. Even halter training or hand-raising a bull does not guarantee it will not become aggressive. It is not uncommon for bulls to turn on their owners or handlers without warning, even those who have raised them from birth.

Some people believe that hand-raising or halter-training bulls will ensure they are tame and safe, but this is untrue. There are many cases of hand-raised bulls attacking and killing their owners or handlers.

A bull raised as a “pet” may be part of your herd or family and become entitled and dangerous when it reaches maturity. Bulls can be set off by something as simple as a heifer they cannot get at or a notion that they are not in charge.

It is safer to maintain a respectful “flight zone” with bulls, keeping a distance and avoiding touching or hand-feeding them.

Although bull calves can be adorable, it is essential to remember that they can grow to weigh several hundred pounds and become unpredictable and dangerous. Bulls should be raised with a healthy respect for their strength and potential for aggression.

Even seasoned farmers and herdsmen are not safe around bulls, as evidenced by the many news articles detailing bull attacks and fatalities.

In conclusion, bulls are not pets and should be treated with respect and caution. Recognizing their potential for aggression and maintaining a safe distance from them is essential.

Bulls are smart, unpredictable, and powerful; even the gentlest bull can become dangerous when provoked.

Proper Handling and Respectful Distance with Bulls
Credit: The Toronto Star

Choosing a Safe and Stable Bull: Factors to Consider

When choosing a bull, opting for one raised in a “hands-off” approach and among its herd is the wisest choice. Ideally, the bull should also be dam-raised instead of being bottle-fed.

The renowned animal behaviorist Temple Grandin rightly pointed out that the most dangerous dairy bull lacks proper socialization with its kind.

Unfortunately, most large dairies pull their calves and hand-feed them, which can lead to disaster, especially with Jersey bulls, which are already known for their aggression.

A bull with a respectful “flight zone” is preferable, but it should not be excessively fearful or prone to running away in the presence of humans. As a vet tech, I have encountered “fear biters,” dogs that are so nervous that they are likely to bite anyone approaching them.

Such animals are the worst, and the same holds for bulls with inherited or instilled nervousness or fear. Such animals are the most unpredictable and unstable.

Like a frightened dog, a skittish bull is more likely to attack when it is uncomfortable or surprising.

It is a common misconception that purebred bulls are always the best choice for soundness and stability. On the contrary, two of the most aggressive and unpredictable bulls are the Jersey bull for dairy and the Brahman bull for beef.

Introducing the genetic influence of another breed may help dilute the innate aggression and instability factors.

Just like in humans, where certain psychological imbalances such as depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders are inherited, bad temperaments and unpredictable natures at maturity can also be passed down to the offspring of a bull.

Therefore, it is essential to consider factors beyond breed when selecting a bull for your farm.

Read more about A Guide to Miniature Cows

Importance of Proper Fencing for Bulls and Tips for Keeping Them Contained

As a livestock owner, if you plan on keeping a bull, it is essential to invest in top-quality fencing and develop a clear plan for separating him from non-breeding heifers and cows.

A bull’s instinct to breed can lead to unpredictable behavior and even dangerous situations, especially if left with calving moms or newborns.

To prevent unwanted breeding and ensure safety, it is best to keep your bull in a designated area that is spacious enough for him to roam freely but also easy to manage.

It is advisable to keep at least one breeding female or some steer calves with him for company, as a lonely bull can become destructive and challenge even the most well-constructed fence.

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Fencing for bulls is not the same as fencing for cows. It requires sturdier construction and regular maintenance. Ideally, a fence for retaining a bull of any size should be constructed with wooden fence posts set firmly in the ground and reinforced with T-stakes.

Wooden posts are less likely to loosen and fall than metal stakes alone. Hotwire is often used with cattle panels and wooden posts to ensure a safe and secure perimeter.

Fence chargers should be checked daily and maintained weekly to keep weeds and debris from interfering with their effectiveness.

Maintaining and repairing fencing is an ongoing task and should be a top priority for livestock owners with bulls.

Discover how to Unleash the Potential of Your Farm with Handcrafted Fence Posts

The Importance of Safety Measures and Vigilance

When considering the ownership of a bull, it is crucial to consider the significant financial responsibilities that come with it. While a bull is used only once or twice a year for breeding, it requires as much care and upkeep as a cow.

This includes regular feeding, veterinary attention, vaccinations, and potential costs for repairing damages a bull may cause to farm equipment and fencing.

It’s not uncommon for bulls to wreak havoc on the farm, even small ones like mini Jersey bulls, who can tear through wooden fence rails and pitch fits that lead to the destruction of troughs. Moreover, owning a bull also comes with an emotional cost.

One must be constantly aware of bulls’ inherent danger and risks to human safety. Bulls, even the most docile ones, can become agitated and threatening in certain situations, such as when courting a cow in heat or sensing a nearby heifer in estrus.

Thus, one must never become too comfortable around bulls and always be cautious. Bull-related deaths are common worldwide due to the mistaken belief that a sweet and mild bull will never hurt its owner.

This could not be further from the truth. No matter how well you treat a bull, it should never be trusted completely.

When a bull is present on the farm, it is essential to be vigilant, especially when small children are around, who may not understand the risks involved.

If you decide to keep a bull, you must prioritize your safety and the safety of others on your farm, remain hyper-aware when in or near pastures, and never turn your back on a bull.

The Importance of Regularly Replacing a Bull in Breeding Practices.

When it comes to breeding with bulls, many factors are specific to each farmer’s herd plan and practices. It’s generally recommended that a bull be kept in service for only two to three seasons to maintain genetic diversity and avoid inbreeding.

While some farmers may engage in line breeding, most avoid inbreeding altogether to produce the most desirable traits in their herd. As a result, bulls need to be regularly replaced, especially if you wish to keep heifers from his breeding.

Another reason to replace a herd sire regularly is that bulls can become too comfortable on the same farm after a few years and may exhibit concerning character traits.

This can be observed in bulls like the destructive one previously mentioned, who started mild and even-tempered but gradually became unpredictable and threatening.

It’s believed that genetics may play a part in this transformation, so it’s essential to start with a bull of sound genetic temperament and hope that he has inherited this trait from his sire.

Farmers can ensure that their breeding practices lead to healthy and thriving herds with careful consideration and planning.

Check our Beginner’s Guide to Livestock Breeds: Our Top Picks for Your Farm

Factors to Consider for Breeding Bulls in Cattle Ranching

Breeding a herd of cows involves careful planning and consideration of various factors, including the age of the bull, the number of cows per bull, and the time of year for turning the bull in with the herd.

As an expert in this field, Kordell recommends turning the bull out to service cows when he is at least one year old but prefers 18 months or older.

It is also essential to consider the number of cows per bull, with Kordell suggesting no more than 25 cows per bull to minimize the risk of open cows at the end of the breeding season.

The timing of when to turn the bull in with the herd is a matter of personal preference, with most ranchers having either spring or fall calvings.

Kordell recommends a bull to be turned in around the beginning of May for herds that begin calving in February, taking into account the gestation period of cows, which is similar to that of humans.

He also notes that earlier spring calving is advantageous for cooler and more consistent weather, but later spring calving can avoid extreme cold snaps.

For fall calving, warmer days might be more enjoyable, but there is a risk of fluctuating temperatures that can cause stress and pneumonia for young calves. Ultimately, weighing the pros and cons and deciding what works best for your herd is essential.

Read more about Miniature Cattle: The New Trend in Livestock Ownership?

Providing Adequate Space and Company for Bulls

Understanding the temperament of your bull is essential in ensuring the safety of both the animal and the people working around it. Bulls have varying characters, ranging from calm and docile to wild and aggressive.

It’s essential to research and evaluate the disposition of a bull before purchasing one. Catalogs often have a docility number that indicates a bull’s temperament.

However, observing the bull in person is highly recommended to closely watch its behavior and for any signs of aggression.

As any experienced farmer will tell you, bulls require a special setup to thrive and perform their duties effectively. One of the critical considerations is providing them with their own space for at least part of the year, as keeping them in the herd can pose serious risks.

Not only do bulls have the potential to harm or mate with small calves, but they can also breed dams back too soon, potentially harming their health and the health of their offspring.

To ensure the health and well-being of your herd, it’s recommended to provide your bull with a separate pasture or large yard, which should be adequately fenced and maintained to keep your bull secure and healthy.

Remember that this will require additional time, effort, and resources, as you must clean, feed, and care for your bull daily, especially during the months when he is not in service.

Additionally, it’s crucial to remember that bulls are herd animals and should never be kept alone. This can cause them to become angry, aggressive, and challenging to manage.

Providing Adequate Space and Company for Bulls
Credit: Drovers

According to Kordell, a bull will make it very clear if it doesn’t want you around. It’s also worth noting that more than one bull can be kept together in a pasture, but watching their behavior with each other is crucial.

For instance, two bulls might gang up and prevent the third one from eating. Pasturing three bulls together can also pose a problem, where two bulls might get along fine but gang up on the third one.

To avoid such a situation, it is necessary to provide a large pasture with enough room for them to spread out and space to get away from each other. Feeding in separate areas can also be helpful in some cases.

Keeping your bull settled with other bovines, such as family steers or a couple of mature girls, is recommended to keep him settled.

However, he advises that caution should still be exercised when introducing them to one another, similar to the care taken when housing multiple bulls together. The safety and well-being of the calves should always remain a top priority for any rancher or breeder.

This not only helps to prevent aggressive behavior but also ensures that the bull is part of the daily activities of a group of like-minded animals, as it is in their DNA to be social and interact with their peers.

By following these guidelines and providing your bull with the care and attention they require, you can ensure a healthy and successful breeding program for your herd.

Separating a bull from his herd: challenges and solutions

Removing a bull from his ladies can be a challenging task. When a bull is separated from his herd, he may become agitated and restless, as the herd is his family, and he sees himself as the guardian and protector.

The bond between mature bovines is incredibly strong, and the patriarch bull will do whatever it takes to remain with his herd.

Even if you successfully move him to another pasture, the bull may continue to pace and call for the herd for several days, particularly if they are still within his line of sight.

Taking a steer calf with him from the herd is best to provide some familiarity and comfort during the transition.

Raising bulls may require extra care due to their distinct temperaments, but their overall management is similar to steers and cows.

Monitoring their body condition regularly, particularly before breeding season, and conducting routine tests to ensure that they remain high-quality breeding stock is crucial.

Kordell recommends that for those breeding twice a year, their bull should undergo two tests annually. Investing in a bull can be exciting in expanding your herd, but it is critical to conduct ample research before purchasing.

It is advisable to consult with a local rancher and ask pertinent questions. Refrain from rushing into buying the first bull available and, instead, make a wise and informed decision.

Separating a bull from his herd
Credit: Mother Earth News

Options for Breeding Cows Without Owning a Bull

Breeding cows can be a challenging task, especially when it comes to acquiring a bull. Fortunately, several options are available to consider when it comes to keeping a bull on your farm.

Here are some of the possibilities:

Lease

Some farmers may allow you to lease their bull with proof of proper herd testing. However, this practice comes with many potential difficulties and is generally not recommended due to the many variables involved.

Borrow or Co-own

If you have a friend with a proven bull of sound temperament, you may be able to work out a deal to borrow or co-own the bull for breeding purposes.

This arrangement allows you to share the responsibility of owning the bull and plan your breeding schedules to suit each other.

Leave your cow at another farm for service

This option involves leaving your cow at another farm to be bred and paying the farmer a fee for care and board and the service.

Artificial Insemination (AI)

AI is a popular option that involves storing frozen semen in a tank or having an AI technician receive and store it for you. While this is a simple and easy option, it has its expenses and drawbacks.

The success rate for AI can be as low as 10%, and repeated attempts can be time-consuming and costly.

Temporary Herd Sires

This option is a practical solution that involves buying a bull you want for your herd, using his services on all your cows at once, and then selling him off. This option ensures you have the services of a bull you like without the commitment to his ongoing care.

However, it is essential to remember that you should never ask your seller to take him back unless she has expressed a desire to reacquire him.

Ultimately, the best option for breeding your cows depends on your needs and resources. It’s essential to weigh the pros and cons of each option and choose the one that is best for you.

Read more about A Guide to Goat Ownership: Can You Keep a Goat as a Pet?

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