Fall calving is wrapping up and we are already looking towards preparing for the next breeding season. Many cow-calf operators use important management tools, including pre-breeding vaccination and post-breeding pregnancy checks, to maximize the health and productivity of the herd. However, bulls are equally important to a successful breeding season. While bulls don’t always come through the chute when the cow herd is being worked, vaccination and deworming has a great effect as they go to work during the breeding season.
Breeding soundness exams (BSE) are proactive investments in maximizing your chances of a great breeding season. While pregnancy checking is important for identifying open cows and making management decisions accordingly, those results are only found after the breeding season is over. Identifying an infertile bull before the breeding season starts allows you to make management changes in advance giving you the opportunity to salvage the season.
A bull BSE evaluates for structural soundness (feet, legs, body condition, vision). A full reproductive exam is then performed, including palpation and measurement of his scrotum and accessory sex glands. A semen sample is collected and evaluated for adequate motility and morphology. A BSE identifies bulls who are infertile or subfertile. It does not evaluate libido, or the bull's interest in breeding cows. Therefore, it tells you if a bull is capable of getting a cow pregnant, but does not guarantee that he will choose to do so.
A few other notes about bulls and breeding:
A good facility is important in performing a BSE. We need to be able to hold the bull in place, get behind him, and get under him from the side.
Schedule your BSE around a month before breeding season so that you have time to find a replacement if he fails or recheck him if he is borderline.
Remember that your bull represents 50% of your new genetics - a good bull is a worthwhile investment.
Keep an eye on your bull through the breeding season. A lame bull or an overworked bull who loses body condition will not get cows pregnant. Health issues in a bull need to addressed promptly.
Bulls under 2 years of age can generally breed the number of cows equal to his months of age (15-month-old bull can manage 15 cows in a season). Mature bulls can service up to 30 cows comfortably in a season. These numbers can be adjusted if the bull is cleaning up after cows are artificially inseminated.