Ranchers evaluating 'borderline' bulls; Spring soundness testing ensures good fall cattle crop
Last March, area cattlemen had the opportunity to have their bulls tested for fertility soundness and other defects following the hard winter.
"We recommend having them tested," said Eldon Cole, livestock specialist at University of Missouri Extension in Mt. Vernon. "If some of those cattle were borderline during the March exam, we would encourage the producer to have the animal re-tested about now before turning them out with the herd.
"With the physiology of a bull, it takes about 60 days from the time of the insult occurred until it clears up. Bulls should now be shooting sperm that is viable for herd production."
Bull testing is not focused solely on the mobility of the semen. The structural soundness of the animal, body condition, feet, legs and gait are all areas to evaluate and determine if the animal is going to be utilized for a breeding program.
Testing in March did not reveal as many defects as veterinarians and specialists anticipated.
"We were pleasantly surprised," Cole said. "Out of the 150 bulls we checked, none had problems directly related to the weather. We found some long toes and other reproductive issues, but did not find a true loss of fertility due to the cold."
"We had very few bulls that failed due to tissue damage from frostbite," added John Harper, DVM, of Animal Clinic of Monett. "Considering the winter we had, we'll see some guys try to push breeding up so their calves drop earlier and are on the ground before bad weather hits, or delay breeding and have late calves. The only concern on late calves is they are lighter when they go to market."
Among those tested were five animals belonging to Barry County producer Larry Morrison.
"Two of his passed and three were borderline," Cole said. "We had trouble getting a sample from a couple of the bulls."
Morrison said he sold one of the animals and is planning to have the others tested before he turns them out with his herd.
"I still have to test," Morrison said. "But I'm turning my bulls in with the herd late this year. I lost several calves this winter because they froze. I plan to start calving more in line with nature."
Morrison is breeding for herd improvement, lending Herfords, mini Dexters and Beefmasters to produce baldie calves.
Docility, fertility, efficiency, and longevity are just a few of the traits that
Beefmaster cattle offer, along with rapid growth rates.
"They start out small and then they just shoot up," Morrison said. "Black and red baldies are some of the best cattle you can have. You mix those with Beefmasters and you have cattle that can better withstand the heat.
"I'm putting bulls out just now. The cows will calve in March, which has a little better weather than January and February."
Currently, Morrison is running about 180 head on three properties.
"I have to cull some of the older cattle out," he said. "I've got too many for the amount of land I have. While most people can expect 10 years of production, I've had one cow still producing at 24 years of age."
Morrison is also introducing Longhorns into the herd.
"They have superior meat," he said. "It's leaner, better for human consumption."
Morrison also lets his cattle graze on orchard grass and clover, feeding no grain.
"Grass-fed beef tastes better," he said. "But hot fescue won't do it as a finish.
"All the stuff you get in the store is grain-fed beef. I have a friend who could eat elk and other game animals, but said he was allergic to beef. I gave him some of ours and he was just fine. He isn't allergic to beef, he's allergic to the way store-bought meat is produced. They're all grain fed."
Although the early testing for body condition and fertility were "borderline," Morrison is confident that his bulls are ready for breeding.
"I plan to artificially inseminate 15 cows and then turn that Beefmaster in to the field to catch any clean-up," he said.
"I have a lot of black and red genetics in my herd. In Texas, producers go for the red genetics because they can better withstand the heat. The cattle market is so good today that practically all cattle bring good money. Blacks may bring more per pound, but the reds make me money. They may not sell as high as the blacks do, but they're bigger."
Morrison, a retired mechanic and grower for Tyson Foods, Inc., decided to quit the poultry business but continue his 50 years in the cattle industry.
"Raising cattle used to be tough," he said. "Now, you have to screw up pretty badly not to make money at it. Cattle numbers are lower and prices are higher.
"This keeps me going. If I were to quit, it would destroy me."