Bull test: Can he get the job done?


SALEM, Ohio – Cattlemen, listen up: Your herd bull could be costing you more money than you realize.

His one and only job is to breed as many cows as quickly as possible.

But if he can’t get the job done, you’re losing money on the bottom line: a dragged-out breeding season, more open cows, fewer calves, less weaning weight.

Are you willing to take the losses?

Your bull’s ability to settle cows is crucial to the success of natural service breeding used on most beef operations.

One of the most efficient methods used to determine his ability is a breeding soundness exam.

Exam. A breeding soundness exam by a veterinarian includes a good look at the bull’s physical soundness and reproductive tract, plus an evaluation and scoring of semen and libido.

The most popular time to test bulls is 30-60 days before breeding season – a time that’s closing in for producers hoping to breed back after spring calving.

Physical. The physical soundness exam includes an exam of the bull’s feet and legs, eyes, testicles, internal structure and overall health.

And all those factors are important.

According to Ohio State University animal scientist Stephen Boyles, an average 15 percent of beef bulls used are potentially unsatisfactory breeders because of physical or behavior problems.

All four legs and their joints and both eyes should be free from injury – not being able to see the cows or walk to them can hinder even the best bull.

Fertility. The semen sample determines number, motility and the percentage of normal shaped sperm.

Boyles also said about 11 percent of yearling bulls are sterile or subfertile.

But it’s not just the young ones breeders should worry about. Exams have shown that 4 percent of proven sires – the ones who got the job done last year – develop fertility problems between seasons.

Bulls that are found to be infertile through the semen test can be culled or replaced in time for the upcoming breeding season.

Real value. With a relatively inexpensive soundness exam – tests run around $50 per bull – breeders can save the calving-time heartache of finding their bull wasn’t the stud they thought he was.

Producers tossing around the idea of foregoing breeding soundness exams should look at the value of their calves, said Stan Smith, an Ohio State University extension program assistant.

Smith is also a Fairfield County cattleman.

“If a bull isn’t tested ahead of time, the only other way to find out he’s not a breeder is next spring when calves don’t come,” Smith said.

“You could be running one or five bulls, but just because you turned them out doesn’t mean the job is getting done,” he said.

“This deserves some attention with calves as valuable as they are. Each cycle a cow misses is 21 days. At weaning that’s 40-50 pounds, maybe at $1 a pound,” he said.

“It could add up to a lot of money lost,” he said.

Get tested. United Producers Inc. at Hillsboro, Muskingum Livestock, the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association and the Five State Beef Initiative are offering breeding soundness exams.

Veterinarians will conduct the exams, administer vaccinations and parasite control for a cost at the UPI Hillsboro stockyard and Muskingum locations this spring.

Dates for the Hillsboro exams are March 26, April 30 and May 21. At Zanesville, March 29, April 26 and May 24.

For more information, call Logan Edenfield at UPI at 937-393-3424; Denny Ruff, Muskingum Livestock, 740-452-9984; or the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association’s Justin Lahmers at 614-873-6736.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

Related link: http://beef.osu.edu

The right tools

Producers having a breeding soundness exam done on a bull should:

*      Schedule the exam for near the beginning of the breeding season. Leave enough time for retesting, if needed.

*      Allow plenty of time for testing that day. Rushing will frustrate you, your vet and the bull.

*      Provide an indoor area for semen testing.

*      Provide adequate facilities. Bulls are rough on chutes and fences and can cause injury to themselves or humans.

(Source: Utah State University Extension)


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