BUYING A good breeding beef bull is a skill like many others in farming, but no matter how good your choice if you handle him badly once you get him home you won't get the best from your expensive investment.

Gavin Hill, senior livestock consultant with SAC Consulting, offers some guidance on best practice.

'You should take good time to study the bulls on offer in a sale and take plenty of time to decide. But do not forget the bull will also need time to adjust to his new surroundings.

When many farmers are apparently leaving purchasing decisions until cash flow is better, it is worth reminding everyone that a bull needs at least two to three months after purchase through the ring to adjust properly and get into condition for his harem of females.

It is sometimes remarked that, after a few days, a new bull seems restless and has temperament issues when he simply needs time to settle in. It is also a good time to wash him down and flush out the soap used at the sales. Leaving this on can cause skin irritation and has at times led to hair loss.

At this stage, do not suddenly put him on a restricted diet, as it is not good to have sudden changes in quantity and type of feed. If possible, it is worthwhile asking the seller for a bag of the feed, or what is left, that the bull was fed prior to sale.

Indeed, in the future it would be good if sellers automatically made feed available to the buyer. It could be worthwhile to purchase, or make up a good energy concentrate feed.

Remember sudden dietary shocks can cause fertility issues and unsettle a bull. Feed him reasonably well initially to settle him and then slowly start to reduce the level of concentrates over a period of time.

He will not be used to just forage, so make sure that not only is the correct energy and protein fed but there are also the right levels of vitamins and minerals.

Also, bulls brought to sales are often group housed from weaning and not used to isolation. It is bad practice to simply purchase the bull and put him in an area where he has little contact with what is going on roundabout him or confined in a dark pens.

Yes, newly-bought stock must be quarantined and every buyer should know what the rules are, but bulls need to see activity, especially as he has had a lot of close contact prior to sale. Spend time with your investment. Allow him to have exercise, which he is used to when being reared.

If he was halter trained, then it is ideal to continue with this and, as soon as he is out of quarantine, then close contact with other livestock is advised.

It is important to avoid injury when he is put out to work. Exercise in a small paddock, with some company to get his locomotion and muscles working is advisable preparation for serving the cows.

Imagine Usain Bolt sitting on his behind for three months before running a 100m race. He would pull every muscle in his body! So it is ideal to keep water and feed at opposite ends of the paddock to encourage movement.

Before he starts to work, it is important to have given him a veterinary pre-breeding examination to check he is physically normal and has adequate semen quality. A number of commercial men are now testing bulls with a couple of cows pre-season to see if he settles them and gains confidence prior to main bulling period.

A young bull should be 'educated' and serve his first female under supervision on a non-slip surface. Observe him closely to check for normal service behaviour and absence of any penile injury or lesions like warts.

One question I am often asked is how many cows should he go to when ready? Opinions vary from 10 to 20 females for a young bull, but monitor returns to service and, if you are getting more than 50% returns, it is suspicious. It is another reminder to be sure you know what your insurance covers!

Do not forget parasite control. Dose for worms and fluke after the grazing period, as many young bulls will have little or no immunity.

Do not get rid of the old boy either. The young gun has yet to prove himself and it is always correct to have back-up on farm. Too often we lack bull power on farms and work with little, if any, spare.

Finally, after the young bull has been removed from the cows, he should then be put onto a growing ration as he still has significant growth and development to do. When this is not done, it can have an impact on his longevity and future capability.

For bulls that have lost a lot of condition - more than the 0.75 Condition Score - then start the feeding earlier so that there is a longer time to replenish weight at a sensible weight gain and concentrate input.

For large bulls that have lost a lot of weight, then a standard 12 ME beef nut will not do. They require a higher energy nut (12.5 to 13 ME) and, if large amounts are needed, then it must be spread over two meals per day.'