THE decision to purchase a new bull is often shaped around factors including the budget of an operation and the scale of breeding program.
For many smaller herds, especially in southern states, purchasing a new sire is often seen as a challenge. Smaller-scale producers often see the outlay of an often under-utilised new bull, as an impediment.
However factors such as the logistics of running a single bull separately once joining has been completed, along with concerns of using a bull over daughters also shape the approach to bull purchasing.
Some smaller producers have sought alternative options to purchasing bulls outright. Options range from using artificial insemination through to forming local syndicates to purchase a bull to use between several smaller enterprises.
Most commonly, smaller producers have turned to leasing a bull to address their mating needs. While this is a common practice, it is not as straightforward as making an agreement to lease a bull for a set period of time.
There are several important considerations that should be resolved prior to moving a leased bull into a new herd. These considerations range from biosecurity, transport, health and welfare, and overall cost. Having these concerns resolved ahead of signing a lease should be front of mind for any producer considering leasing bulls as part of their breeding program.
Biosecurity & Health
Introducing new animals will expose a herd to a degree of risk. In the first instance, it is essential to ensure that biosecurity plans are up to date. In leasing a bull, most producers may think only of the risk associated with reproductive disease. In focusing on this risk, it is essential not to overlook the risk potential of introducing new weeds or parasites as well.
In regard to disease, particularly the reproductive diseases, a bull which is used as a lease bull can be responsible for not just bringing a problem into a herd. He potentially can also take diseases and their associated issues back to the owner’s herd. It is important to remember that diseases can go two ways.
To minimise the risks associated with reproductive diseases, a plan to test a lease bull prior to use is really an expectation, rather than an option. More importantly, bulls should be tested at the end of the lease as well. This can ensure the bull does not go on to spread disease on return home or before heading to the next leasing program.
Lease plans should also be put in place to address general health and husbandry. During the time a bull is located on a property for joining, there should be clarity around how bulls will be cared for. Joining is a peak risk time for bulls, with physical injuries occurring more frequently as a result of mating activity.
Ahead of entering a lease agreement, producers need to have a clear strategy for regular inspection as well as knowing what their plans or obligations are to seek veterinary help for injuries or treatments.
Care of a leased bull
Part of the pre-lease planning should also factor in the nutritional program to be followed during joining. Joining is a period where nutritional demands by bulls are higher. It is not unusual for bulls to lose 45-90kg, roughly 1-2 fat scores, during a joining period. The cost of recovery post joining in weight does need to be considered ahead of a lease agreement.
The mating load for leased bulls can be an overlooked area by many producers. Mating loads will impact on both the bull’s physical capacity and potentially lead to injuries or significant condition loss. Again, as part of a pre-plan to lease, producers should be clear on how many cows the bull will be expected to join and over a set period.
Setting Conditions for lease
While lease agreements for bulls tend to be fairly generic, not all agreements are clearly worded or even formally agreed. This can lead to ongoing issues which are not easy to resolve. These arise around the condition of the bull post lease, to less than ideal calving percentages or issues associated with health.
Prior to starting a lease, it is wort developing a formal plan to be agreed to on both sides. As a framework, a lease plan should address the following points:
Bull identification: The bull to be leased should be clearly identified using NLIS number; breed registration (if available) as well as breed. Additional details may include a photo of the bull ahead or and at the end of the lease period.
Location of the bull during joining: A lease agreement should be clear on where the bull will be located during the joining period. Will he be moved to adjoining properties as part of the lease agreement or will the breeding herd be located in one place?
Feeding & Care: The plan should address the condition of the bull on arrival; how he will be fed during joining and what condition score he will be returned in, post joining. The agreement should be clear about injury management and veterinary treatments, including who has responsibility and for payment of those costs. It is worth including a requirement for the owner of the bull to be notified immediately and consulted as part of any care plan.
Pre & Post Health Checks: Leased bulls should be expected to pass a Bull Breeding Soundness Examination (BBSE) ahead of use. Producers who are leasing bulls should seek to have this as a lease requirement, with a BBSE carried out at least in the month leading up to commencement of use. This is opportunity should also address testing for any reproductive diseases that may be an issue.
While not common, a post joining BBSE & associated testing on a bull is highly recommended. This can highlight issues that may include pre-existing and undetected disease levels.
Insurance cover: As an asset, the leased bull should be covered by insurance. This needs to be clear in regard to issues associated with death or injury to both the bull or by the bull to animals in the breeding herd or people.
Lease Costs: The cost of leasing can be determined in various ways. Some models use the cost of AI as a base. This allows producers to compare AI against leasing.
Alternative pricing is made based on the cost of running a bull per year. This cost is based on feed consumed during the year, health costs for annual programs, identification costs etc. These can be calculated as a daily cost to the owner and form the basis of the lease costs for the number of days the bull will be leased to a breeder for.
While individual circumstances and needs may differ, producers who are considering leasing a bull should formalise their agreements with the bull’s owners.
Making the time to plan how a lease will work as well as the practicality of agreeing and then leasing a bull can help avoid any ongoing issues that can arise through lack of clarity through the process.
Alastair Rayner is the Principal of RaynerAg, an agricultural advisory service based in NSW. RaynerAg is affiliated with BJA Stock & Station Agents. He regularly lists and sell cattle for clients as well attending bull sales to support client purchases. Alastair provides pre-sale selections and classifications for seedstock producers in NSW, Qld and Victoria. He can be contacted here or through his website www.raynerag.com.au