ID 130880304 © Sergey Chirkov |

Bull handling basics

When bulls start to become territorial and difficult to handle it’s tempting to assume that putting a ring in their nose will solve the problem. It may not, and along with nose ringing, you should develop some basic handling principles for all to carry out.

  • Never trust a bull - not of any age.
  • Don’t hand-rear a bull, which is later to be used for service.
  • Be firm and positive and don’t let the bull win.
  • The “fight-flight” distance between man and bull is 5-6m.
  • But be prepared to back off if things get really dangerous and seek help.
  • When moving bulls, shift them with other stock.
  • Always try to have two people there when handling bulls.
  • Be especially careful when removing bulls after mating cows - he will want to stay longer!

Why bother to nose ring a bull?

If you are going to lead a bull on a halter, then it's a good idea to have his nose ringed. But the bull must be taught to lead and at the same time respect the ring in its nose. If you are not going to lead the bull, then it’s doubtful if it’s worth doing.

The pressure must never be placed totally on the ring, as you won’t hold a bull by the nose ring alone. He will just pull, and as the pain increases so will his fury, and you’ll achieve nothing. The bull’s nose can have 400-500kg of beef behind it and is a lot stronger than you are.

A led bull should always be restrained by a halter around his head, then the lead rope fed through the ring. So the ring is just for added control and not the total restraint. If the bull has horns (which are an added danger) the lead rope can go around those, then down through his nose ring.

Using a lead pole

This a pole about 1m long with a clip on the end that goes through the ring. The theory is that you can keep the bull at a distance away from you and lead it safely by keeping his head up. The pole gives you a lot of leverage on the nose.

But be warned, as bulls are very strong and if they decide to take off or get their head down, you on the end of a pole would be able to hold them. The safest bet when leading a bull is to have two halters on him - one for each person on either side of his head. Put both halter lead ropes through the ring.

Who should ring the bull?

This is a job for a veterinarian for a number of reasons:

  • The welfare of the bull - the septum of the nose is a very sensitive area. Pinch your own to confirm this.
  • The new Animal Welfare Act dictates that the bull should not suffer pain.
  • Restraining a bull is a dangerous job and you need a decent modern head bail and preferably a crush too.
  • With inadequate facilities, the bull may need a general tranquiliser.
  • If you muck the job up, the bull will associate all that pain and stress with you and the vet - and he will remember!

If you ring a bull as a yearling, you may want to put a smaller ring in his nose and replace it later with a larger one. You don’t want a big heavy ring in a young animal as it may make the hole too big and this may lead to the nose being ripped open.

You often see large bulls with very small rings in their noses that must be uncomfortable. They should have been replaced but the owners clearly don’t want another confrontation with their bull or to call the vet.

Don’t ever try to use one of those “self-piercing” rings that are on sale, with a nice sharp point on one side of the hinge. You are asking for a nasty accident as this hurts the bull, no matter how quick you are to insert it. You certainly won’t get near the beast again to put the small screw in place!

When contemplating ringing a bull, consult your vet to discuss the need for a ring. Then the vet can give the bull a local anaesthetic. Don’t touch the ring till the bull’s nose is well healed, and even then, use it as little as possible and never pull the bull along with it. Use the ring along with a halter which takes most of the strain.

A big advantage of a ring in a bull’s nose these days is for visitors to the farm who may not understand the physical features at the other end! It’s a good “beware” indicator of a hazard to comply with the OSH regulations.