Breeding Soundness Exams can save money

As fall approaches, cattle producers are looking to turn bulls out with females, but will he be able to do his job? 

Producers can turn their bulls out then wait and see how many cows are bred, if any, or have a breeding soundness exam (BSE) preformed by a veterinarian prior to the breeding season. 

Proper selection and management of a bull prior to breeding season is key for profitability. A BSE prior to breeding season makes sure bulls are physically and reproductively sound, resulting in acceptable cow conception rates. 

To complete a breeding soundness exam, a veterinarian will do a physical exam to ensure reproductive organs are of the right size with no deformities, including inspection of the bull’s reproductive organ and external genitalia. The prepuce/sheath is inspected for conformation and abnormalities. The scrotum is examined for conformation, symmetry and the presence of lesions. Testicles are palpated to see if they are normal consistency or too hard or too soft.

The exam also consists of a semen collection process. Semen can be collected in three ways: 1) by hand manipulation, 2) electro-ejaculation and 3) by use of a dummy mount and artificial vagina. 

The way a bull is collected depends on veterinarian equipment and choice. Once semen is collected it is analyzed under a microscope for sperm vitality. 

A BSE will also include an evaluation of a bull’s overall body condition. MU Extension officials recommend that bulls have a BCS of 6 prior to the breeding season.  Structural soundness should also be evaluated during a BSE. A vet will look at a bull’s feet and legs to evaluate its ability to mount and breed a cow, as well as overall conformation. In older bulls, injuries to feet, legs, eyes and backs could pose a problem in breeding performance. 

The cost associated with the exam is minimal compared to the cost of open females or late calves because of low fertility or a bull’s physical inability to breed. 

Bulls that produce failing results are classified as unsatisfactory. The younger bulls that fail generally have a problem with sperm morphology and/or inadequate scrotal circumference. A very young bull may fail because of immaturity and his semen may contain a lot of proximal droplets.

Many of those bulls will pass the exam at 15 months, but they need to be checked again. An unsatisfactory older bull should be culled. 

A bull that is unable to breed females can be very costly. According to the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension, if a bull with low fertility is turned out with 25 cows and the cows are returning to heat in just three weeks, the calf crop has been delayed 21 days. The loss of days, according to information from U of A Cooperative Extension Specialist Johnny Gunsaulis, can result in a loss in profit from the calf crop. 

“Suppose the calves on the cow gained 2 pounds a day; 25 calves would have gained over 1,000 pounds. At $1 per pound, the producer loses over $1,000,” he has said. 

Experts also advise producers to administer booster vaccinations and treat for internal and external parasites at BSE time, so bulls do not pass disease or parasite issues on to cows.

A BSE evaluates the physical requirements for a successful season, but it can’t test a bull’s libido or serving capacity. 

A bull can pass a BSE but still will not actually breed a cow. Producers should monitor bulls early in the breeding season for any signs of a low libido.


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