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What Do You Do With Your Bull When He’s Not Working?

By   /  June 22, 2020  /  Comments Off on What Do You Do With Your Bull When He’s Not Working?

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The bull in my herd lives a pretty good life.  He “works” a couple of months a year and the rest of the time he just, sort of, chills.

Most cattlemen want their bull’s working season to last for as short a duration as possible. The advantages of a more uniform calf crop to sell, synchronized nutritional requirements, better focus on new calf management, and identification of nonproductive cows certainly make pulling the bull off the cows worthwhile.

At the sale the auctioneer likes telling things about the cattle besides their weight and age. “Hey, lookie here, Eddie!  We got a pen load of certified Red Angus steers from over there in Kiowa County. Been off momma for 75 days; trained to a water trough and electric fence!”

It’s also better for sales. When you bring that smorgasbord load of calves born at all different times to a sale they lose their identity as your cattle because the seller wants to group like cattle together for the buyers. Since I started shipping a more similar calf crop my return improved.

And unless you run cattle in Hawaii or somewhere, calving in every month that contains a vowel probably doesn’t synchronize with the best forage growing conditions. Babies shivering in the snow trying to eat hay is not part of my solution set.

Finally, I think we all want to know when calves might arrive so we can prepare an intervention for any problems or at least to get an early look at the new guy on the place. How embarrassing is it have a new calf and not know it? Plus, there’s no better way to pick out the slackers in the cow herd than to see who doesn’t stand with a calf beside them at the end of June.

Thus, my four legged Casanova needs to take care of his business in a defined portion of the calendar.  I just keep one bull and if he can’t cover a couple dozen females I need to send him packing.

Now, what do you do with an unemployed bull for several months? 

I tried many ways of storing my bull during the off season. Once upon a time I even left the bull with the herd all year! And I just went through what problems a dumb piece of managing like that causes with calving throughout the year and selling a calf crop that represents a several month span of birth dates.

I confess to leaving a bull by himself in one pasture for several months. In the bad idea genre this may rank as my highest. Calm as a kitten when I pulled him off the cows. I recall a boy offered me some really good money to buy that bull because he certainly looked impressive standing out there in the field by himself.

He rolls in with his dualie and long aluminum trailer to pick up his purchase. He’s got his wife riding along and they’re all pretty excited and duded up like folks on a first name basis with the staff at Cavender’s Boot City, if you get my drift. He backs up that rig all shiny and new to my corral and I commence to bringing up my bull, 54.

Everything seems pretty cool until I shut the gate to the corral. The bull’s closest contact with any other living creature for the previous three months amounted to me driving by on the road 50 yards away, rolling down the window, and yelling, “Hey, bull!” Once I closed the gate he turned into Diablo. He managed to jump and snort and twist and throw his head and kick and all kinds of craziness.

“Oh, he’s just a little spirited today,” I yelled to the dude and his wife. Diablo proceeded to chase me over, around, and through the fence a few times before I finally got him to the loading chute. The now white-faced buyer stood quivering while his wife filled his ear.

“He was really calm all last summer,” I laughed.

More whispering from the wife. Uh-oh. “He’s too wild for us.” For good measure Diablo gave a couple of good snorts to hurry them along. I don’t think I ever saw as much as a brake light. I took out my notebook and stubby pencil.  “Don’t…leave …bull…by…himself,…stupid.

If you leave him by himself he turns ornery so you need to decide who gets pulled from the herd to live with him. And where do they stay? Rotating a couple of head separate from the herd can become a real pain in the rear end. As a grazing purist, leaving cattle in the same field for an extended period of time turns your stomach, of course.

You end up keeping steers longer than you really want if you throw them in with the bull, though. Trying to run two different rotations proves very difficult, too. Besides making sure everyone gets plenty of fresh grass you still need to maintain water and minerals in two different places. And keeping a bull behind one of my fences sure ain’t Alcatraz so you need to consider some distance between the two groups to keep order. I found all that to be too much work for ol’ Luke.

You know how you hate to see your kids “just hanging out?” Good gosh. “Go find something to do or I can find you something to do!” Well, my bull just laying around for three quarters of the year hits me the same way.

One thing I recall from my earlier days:  how can you justify spending good money for a bull to service a handful of cows? Spending $700 per cow seems ridiculous, but what do you do?

Leasing Works For Me

Fast forward to today and I figure there must be some smaller operator out there in those same boots.  Why not lease out my bull, 516, for most of the year and let someone else use him, injecting some good genetics in their herd, and relieve myself of feeding and controlling him?

I placed an ad on Craigslist and everyone and his brother called me. I talked to the Red Angus Association and they helped me out on the contract part. I charged a nominal fee, but our contract called for a number of vet checks before the bull returned home and I scoped out the prospective lessee’s pretty well. I eliminated from consideration people that lived hundreds of miles away in the event that I wanted to check in on my herd sire.

I settled on L.G. after I investigated and snooped around on him some. Everything checked out okay so we met, signed our agreement and he gave me a check. He acted tickled to get the bull and no doubt 516 warmed to the idea of an improved social life.

It worked out well for both of us. We communicated during 516’s sabbatical and he performed as expected. I met my goal of helping a guy out, feeling like quite the philanthropist, and shelving my bull for several months while L.G. used a really good bull for peanuts on his small herd.

Small operators often keep close contact with their animals, so my bull came home with a pet-like calmness and in good shape. And L.G. even asked to do it again the following year!

I wonder if he’s got any use for a teenager.

LZ 516, a leaseed bull. The calves loved him.

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About the author

Luke, a graduate of Western Kentucky University, runs a cow-calf operation in Kiowa County, Oklahoma and keeps a fulltime job at a paper mill. In a previous life he enjoyed vacations in Iraq and Afghanistan courtesy of your United States Army. His wife Kimberly, a nurse, sometimes performs as his veterinarian and with daughter Amy periodically helps Luke out of jams. They contend that he is not nearly as smart or as funny as he thinks.

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