It’s time for your bull’s annual checkup.
“Do not assume, just because a bull passed a breeding soundness exam last year, that the bull is fertile this year,” advised Dr. Tom Troxel, University of Arkansas professor of animal science. “Bull fertility does drop off with age, so bulls should be tested every single year.” Troxel told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor bulls should be subjected to fertility tests between 4 to 6 weeks prior to a breeding season; that way, if the bull fails the test, you have enough time to replace or retest him.
The fertility test needs to be performed by a certified veterinarian, who can also check other aspects of the bull’s apparatus. Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension area livestock specialist based in Lawrence County, Mo., said while palpating the animal the vet can assess whether there are any problems with the bull’s accessory sex glands, and can examine the prepuce and the penis for injuries. The vet can also take testicle measurements to give you an idea about his breeding capacity. “Larger testicle size usually equates to the ability to get a few more females bred,” Cole told OFN, “plus it’s an indicator to some extent of his daughters’ age at reaching puberty.”
The rest of the animal also needs to get a good once-over. Cole said when he’s conducting a bull breeding soundness clinics, he always looks at their eyes. “A lot of bulls have pinkeye scars,” he explained. “They’ve had infections in the past, and some of them may have limited visibility. Of course, we pay a lot of attention to the feet; bulls will get long, grown-out toes, and that can slow up their speed across the pasture as they’re trying to catch a bunch of cows in heat.”
Whether a bull with shortcomings of this nature should be sent to town is, as Cole noted, a judgment call; in today’s market, a replacement animal can cost $4,000-$5,000, but a spent bull can also bring a good price when sold to slaughter. If “he’s not going to get as many cows bred as you would like,” he said, “and if you’ve got a big number of cows waiting for him, maybe he needs some help. It might be you could use him on a limited basis for one more breeding season, but at the same time have a young bull coming in that can spare the bull a little bit of work this year, and then next year maybe the young bull could handle enough cows that you could go ahead and send the older bull to slaughter.”
There are a couple of other things to think about, including the bull’s age. “When a bull gets past 4-5 years of age, we see some deterioration in the quality of the semen, and we find those bulls are the ones more likely to be kicked out,” Cole said. In addition, both Arkansas and Missouri require that bulls sold, leased, bartered or traded be tested for trichomoniasis, with exceptions for virgin bulls 24 months of age or younger, and animals headed to slaughter.
And Dr. Troxel added, “The other thing that’s important is to monitor the body condition of your bulls during the breeding season. Oftentimes, bulls will lose weight during the breeding season; you may need to pull that bull off and feed him a little extra energy so he maintains his body condition and stays nutritionally fit during the breeding season. Sometimes that might occur, especially as we talk about pasture conditions dropping off during this dry period.”


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