Thursday, September 29, 2022
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Turning Out the Bulls – Later

Thanks to Kris Miner, South Dakota Grassland Coalition for sending on this reminder!

With the traditional bull turnout date for most producers coming in the next couple weeks, the SD Grassland Coalition would like to remind cattle producers that considering a later breeding and calving season may be beneficial. In South Dakota, that means May and June when the harshest weather has moved on and the grass is growing rapidly. In your region that timing might be slightly different, but the management tips that these ranchers share will still apply.

To help producers make the shift, the Coalition partnered with SDSU Extension and others to bring rancher’s stories and experiences as they shifted to later calving dates with goals of improving economics, marketing options, and their quality of life. These experiences are captured in a series of You Tube videos, available at the SD Grassland Coalition You Tube Channel and the SDGC website. We’ve also shared two of them here at On Pasture, with transcripts included. The series covers where and when to calve, herd management, and how later calving impacts family and marketing decisions. When the videos were initially released last spring, feedback from livestock producers was very positive.

As is evident throughout the testimonials featured in the videos, planning is the key ingredient. Here’s what these 11 ranchers had to say about planning for bull management when converting to later breeding and calving dates. Enjoy!

Transcript:

Opportunities for Expanding Business

Luke Perman, Rock Hills Ranch, Lowry, SD: Some people have concerns with where do you put your bulls during the time of the year, in June and July, when they’re not breeding. We have a bull pasture that can handle that. That wasn’t much of an issue for us. But I can see where that would be for some people.

There’s some other opportunities I think for somebody’s that’s trying to get in the business or a young person that’s trying to expand to leverage some of the seasonal differences in calving in May and June vs March and April. Most guys are still calving earlier, March and April. I’ve recognized this on my own place too, my bulls aren’t employed during June and most of July and all my neighbors’ bulls are all busy. We had an extra pasture with some grass. I bought some replacement heifers and I turned my bulls out with them before I turned them out with my own heifers. So those bulls were able to cover twice as many animals because we had two different seasons. But those bred heifers I sold.

Bulls are an expensive thing, They’ve gotta have a place to live. Maybe the best way to go about it would be to partner up with someone that does calve earlier and he needs a place for his bulls after he takes them out.

Bull EPD Preferences

Gene Holt, Holsing Farms, Wecota, SD: We like a four frame bull with no more than 16 on a milk EPD. Those are the kind of things we look for and we’ve seen progress in going for that goal.

Jonathan Rohrback, Rosco, SD: With my bull management, I’ve found a bull breeder that basically has the same ideals as I do. They have the May/June calving and the cows do a lot of grazing into the winter time. He’s not pushing the milk EPDs. I’ve learned. I used to always push the milk EPDs looking for that heavier calf and realizing that’s not the most productive cow that’s doing that. So I’ve toned down my milk EPDs in the bulls.

When you drive by there in the summer in June and July July especially because that used to be the time we’d always turn bulls out, and you see the bulls int hat pasture and they don’t get turned out until August and you’re thinking, “They’re just standing there not doing anything besides eating. They’re not working. They’re not making me money.” But then realize that, you know, once August comes along they will. So it’s a mindset of just realizing or getting over the fact that you know they’re not doing anything – but they are. It’s just everything gets moved back. It’s just recognizing the importance and the reason why I’m waiting until august to turn them out.

Rick Smith: When we’re basically looking at a hands-off calving, when we’re doing May/June calving out on pasture, I don’t want to have to assist anything. I tell everybody too. Calving ease no matter bulls, cows, whatever, or heifers  – whatever it is, I want to make sure that I have calving ease genetics in the bull battery. It’s extremely important that the bulls are quiet, that they breed quiet calves, that they are the sires to cows that will be quiet and that there’s no assistance needed for calving.

Is Heat a Problem When Breeding Later?

Rick Smith: Eastern South Dakota we have very high humidity in the early summer, especially June and the first part of July. It can get drier in August and it can stay a little bit moist, but not like the 70 – 80 percent humidity and  75 to 95 degrees. So questions always asked me “If you’re turning out on the first of August, isn’t it too hot for the bull?” The heat doesn’t bother me. The humidity bothers me. Humidity and heat is what kills cattle in feedlots, not just the heat. So, by the time August comes the humidity starts to decrease that allows the evenings to cool down there may not be much activity with the bulls during the daytime but at nighttime it supports whatever they want to do.

This Rancher Prefers Younger Bulls

Neal Bien, Veblen, South Dakota: We did do quite a bit of AI to get the cow herd built up to get the females that went in there. Then we synchronized the cows so we just used mostly clean bulls then. Now we breed everything with the bulls. I think keeping them younger – you know you get them big older bulls, big heavy bulls and they do in the hot part of the summer like to lay under the tree. Younger bulls are more aggressive, I think that’s probably a trait of all males of all species probably. I’m not sure. But we haven’t had those issues that some people talk about. I mean. We have open cows there’s no doubt about that for, a variety of reasons, but I don’t think that we have any more or probably not any less either than when we bred at the so-called cooler times of the year.

How to Keep Yourself on Track

Doug Sieck, Deep Root Ranch, Selby, South Dakota: Now it wasn’t easy to talk myself into waiting to turn the bulls out until August 1st. So I had that picture of those calves and that snow bank on my cell phone and whenever I made a phone call that picture would light up and it would remind me, “Yes, June 20th is not the day to turn bulls out anymore.”

Good Fences Make Good Bull Management

Brett Nix, Nix Ranch, Murdo, South Dakota: When it comes to managing bulls, we actually raise most of our own and so they grow up in our environment. They were born at the same time as all our other calves were born. So they don’t get any special treatment that way. And we have enough of them that we don’t use them the first year generally unless it’s really late in the season. We’ll let them run over a year and not use them for breeding. So we get to watch their development. We get to cull the ones that aren’t fitting what we want to see in a bull. By the time we use them they’re two years old, or nearly.

We manage bulls a lot like we manage our other animals. We do have good fences, but it does take management. We’re back to that again. It’s just sitting down going through our maps and our grazing plan, you know we have a year-round grazing plan, and so we run our bulls – we move them just like we move everything else. But we just make sure that there’s at least two fences between them and any cows. And so far we’ve not had a problem since we started calving later. I don’t think we’ve had a bull get into any of the animals at this point. I t does take more management. We might move three or four groups in one day. And the next day we might not move any. But those bulls we keep on the move and we have to make sure they’re not up against our cows or any neighbors either. It does take more management.

When we went to the 25th of May and finally decided that was our best time period, then we just put the bulls out for less time. It was as simple as that . So we do sell some open cows at the end that didn’t get bred. But when you develop your heifers really cheaply, you don’t put any money to develop them, you can replace those cows that you sell at a very reasonable cost. Our greatest cost is the cost of what that heifer was the day we put the bull in with her. That was her value going into our cow herd for the most part. And then most of our marketing is based around forage and time. What’s time to a steer or heifer?

Larry Wagner, Wagner Land & Livestock, Chamberlain, South Dakota: Most of the land around us is being farmed which to me is a big help in one aspect because, being calving late you always have problems with the neighbors’ bulls. Well, when you got corn fields, you don’t have to worry about neighbors’ bulls.

Electric Fence and Bulls

Pat Guptill, Guptill Ranch, Quinn, South Dakota: Managing our bulls used to be pretty tough when we first did this because they’re wanting out. They know when it’s time to go out. But when we back them up, after two or three years of not letting them out till August, it’s not as hard anymore. And once in awhile we find one that he likes to go wandering and stuff. He usually ends up being sold because I’m not going to put up with that. If they walk through my electric fence we don’t keep them around because we can’t trust them for one thing. But managing the bulls has been a lot easier since our we use electric fence. My comment is if you can’t keep a bull in and he’s a really good bull, get a hotter energizer. They will keep them in.

Jody Brown, Faith, South Dakota: The only thing would be, I’m still out of sync with a lot of my neighbors and friends because they’re still calving early you know. I have to keep everybody else’s bulls out of my cows because in the middle of summer, I still haven’t turned them out and when you calve late, you’re cows are not going to be with bulls until the first of August. So you have to make sure that your neighbors don’t get in your cows. But where we rotational graze, we can keep them away with electric fence. If I have to be up against a neighbor, I’ll just go 15 feet in and run a poly so my cows won’t go over there. So it makes it fairly easy that way. But It’s something you have to think about if you throw all your cattle in against it. And you got bulls around you. It’s something you have to think about.

I’ll Never Go Back

Dan Hefner, Hefner Ranch, Whitewood, South Dakota: It was a learning experience for sure to go that much at one time. But I’d never do it any other way and I’d never go back. There were things that I knew I had to work out when I decided to back my calving off. I knew I would have problems keeping my bulls home and keeping the neighbors bulls home for those two months.

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Vothhttps://onpasture.com
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.

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