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It's Never Too Early to Begin Bull Development

Nancy Glazier, Small Farms & Livestock
Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops

July 29, 2014
It's Never Too Early to Begin Bull Development

Many farms in the Northeast have a restricted breeding season. This breeding cycle calendar needs to be matched with the bull's sexual development, if a young bull is to be used as a herd sire. This is economically sound reasoning since less feed expense is associated with an older bull. In young bulls, scrotal circumference (SC) is positively correlated with testicular weight, sperm output, and fertility [Bagu, et al. 2006]. At times young, immature bulls have poor semen quality and low sperm production. A breeding soundness exam is essential prior to breeding season. Part of the exam includes scrotal circumference measurement which estimates testicular size. The amount of scrotal fat also has an effect on the circumference. Overly high-energy diets tend to increase this amount of fat; generally a gain of less than 3.5 lbs per day is reduces excess fat deposition. Too small of a circumference may mean poor fertility. A low conception rate within the herd is definitely not an equal trade-off for using a young bull!

The first months of a bull calf's life has pronounced effects on LH (luteinizing hormone) secretion and sexual development. This development involves a transient rise in circulating gonadotropin concentrations between 2 and 6 months of age. The role of LH secretion during this time of gonadotropin rise is determined by age at puberty and testicular size. Puberty is defined when a bull can ejaculate 50 million sperm and with 10% motility. Semen quality and quantity is essential for sperm motility. This effect of LH has been verified with a number of studies. The early post-natal increase in mean serum LH concentrations was greater in bull calves that reached puberty early as compared to late [Bagu, et al. 2006]. Interestingly, exogenous (added) LH did not bring on commence of early puberty. Improved nutrition after this period will not compensate that early critical period. Bull calves fed at a maintenance level after this period will still benefit from the early high plane of nutrition [Brito et al. 2007].

Nutrition during this early development period is critical. Low levels of nutrition may delay maturity. Whether this is due to the cow or feed may depend on each operation. First-calf heifers may have lower milk supply and/or pasture or feed may be of poorer quality are two possibilities. Many farms will graze cow-calf pairs with little attention paid to the pastures through the season; nutrition is usually not addressed until post-weaning. This reinforces the importance of rotational grazing and always having quality forage available to the pairs. The animals may have plenty to eat, but if they have to expend more energy finding enough means less energy for growth and development. Creep feeding is an excellent way to provide additional supplementation to growing calves, and in some cases supplementation may be beneficial to the cows.

The NY All Forage Fed Bull Test will be evaluating bulls again this winter at the Cornell University Ruminant Center in Dryden. Please contact me if you are interested in additional information.

Article references:

E.T. Bagu, S.J. Cook, A. Honaramooz, J.P. Aravindakshan, S. Huchkowsky, N.C. Rawlings. Changes in serum luteinizing hormone (LH) concentrations in response to luteinizing hormone releasing hormone
(LHRH) in bull calves that attained puberty early or late. Theriogenology. 66 (2006) 937-944.

Brito LF, Barth AD, Rawlings NC, Wilde RE, Crews DH Jr, Mir PS, et al. Effect of nutrition during calfhood and peripubertal period on serum metabolic hormones, gonadotropins and testosterone concentrations, and on sexual development in bulls. Domest Anim Endocrinol. 2007; 33:1-18.

Effect of growth rate from 6 to 16 months of age on sexual development and reproductive function in beef bulls. L.F.C. Brito, A.D. Bartha, R.E. Wildeb, J.P. Kastelicb. Theriogenology 77 (2012) 1398-1405.











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Upcoming Events

Dairy Cattle Summer Research Update

July 18, 2019
Batavia, NY

After the day's work is done, come hear about two new research trials conducted by Julio Giordano's lab:
  • Strategies for improving dairy cattle reproductive performance and economics
  • Using automated sensors for improving dairy cattle health monitoring and management

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Weed Resistance Management Demonstration and Plot Tour

Event Offers DEC Credits

July 23, 2019
1:00 - 3:00 p.m.
Waterloo, NY

Come join us on July 23 in Seneca County at Quinten Good's farm for a demonstration and walking tour of 16 different pre- and post-emergence treatments in soybean and 12 different treatments and combinations in corn.
  • Tall waterhemp and marestail are two weeds that are resistant to glyphosate and ALS herbicide modes of action in the WNY and Finger Lakes regions.
  • Each year the number of acres with resistant weed populations expands.
  • For herbicides to be an effective tool in weed management, we have to know what chemistries & application timings are most effective against these resistant weeds.

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Pasture Walk with the Finger Lakes Graziers

July 29, 2019
12:45 - 4 pm
Waterloo, NY

Join the Finger Lakes Graziers on a pasture walk and learn about soil health. 
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USDA Announces New Decision Tool for New Dairy Margin Coverage Program

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2019 ? Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced today the availability of a new web-based tool - developed in partnership with the University of Wisconsin - to help dairy producers evaluate various scenarios using different coverage levels through the new Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program.

The 2018 Farm Bill authorized
DMC, a voluntary risk management program that offers financial protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all milk price and the average feed cost (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer. It replaces the program previously known as the Margin Protection Program for Dairy. Sign up for this USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) program opens on June 17.

"With sign-up for the
DMC program just weeks away, we encourage producers to use this new support tool to help make decisions on participation in the program," Secretary Perdue said. "Dairy producers have faced tough challenges over the years, but the DMC program should help producers better weather the ups and downs in the industry."

The University of Wisconsin launched the decision support tool in cooperation with FSA and funded through a cooperative agreement with the USDA Office of the Chief Economist. The tool was designed to help producers determine the level of coverage under a variety of conditions that will provide them with the strongest financial safety net. It allows farmers to simplify their coverage level selection by combining operation data and other key variables to calculate coverage needs based on price projections.

The decision tool assists producers with calculating total premiums costs and administrative fees associated with participation in
DMC. It also forecasts payments that will be made during the coverage year.

The new Dairy Margin Coverage program offers very appealing options for all dairy farmers to reduce their net income risk due to volatility in milk or feed prices," said Dr. Mark Stephenson, Director of Dairy Policy Analysis, University of Wisconsin, Madison. "Higher coverage levels, monthly payments, and more flexible production coverage options are especially helpful for the sizable majority of farms who can cover much of their milk production with the new five million pound maximum for Tier 1 premiums. This program deserves the careful consideration of all dairy farmers."

For more information, access the tool at For
DMC sign up, eligibility and related program information, visit or contact your local USDA Service Center. To locate your local FSA office, visit

New Guidance for Mortality Disposal Issued

NYS Department of Ag and Markets has posted guidelines on disposal of livestock carcasses, in response to reports that some rendering companies have halted pickups from farms.|1