Strategies to ensure breeding soundness in older bulls

Many producers managing cow/calf operations rely on herd sires to do their part to keep the operation growing. Older bulls that have established themselves as capable to cover cows may get a pass on important evaluations prior to breeding season. But livestock specialists say choosing to utilize a mature bull without a bull breeding soundness exam (BSE) can be a mistake. 

Breeding Soundness Exam

No matter their age or track record any bull used to cover cows needs a BSE conducted by a veterinarian. Livestock experts recommend bulls undergo a BSE before every breeding season. “The reason for this is bulls could come up with injuries, sickness or have issues with their reproductive tract at any time that could influence their ability to breed cows,” Patrick Davis, University of Missouri Extension Regional Livestock Field Specialist, said. 

In addition, a thorough BSE will determine if a bull is physically and reproductively sound to breed cows. “By replacing those bulls that have structural and reproductive soundness issues, this will improve cattle producers’ chances of optimum cattle operation performance and profitability,” Davis added.

Additional Evaluation

All bulls, especially older bulls, should be evaluated for body condition and foot score prior to breeding season. Davis recommends bulls go into breeding season with a body condition score of a six. In addition, bulls need to have a good foot score for angle and claw set. 

When the bull is undergoing a BSE, livestock specialists say producers should utilize that time to optimize the bull’s overall health. “Giving booster vaccinations and treating for internal and external parasites at BSE time ensures bulls are healthy and do not pass disease or parasite issues onto the cattle operation,” Davis said. 

Fertility with Age

As a bull ages, if he is healthy, then his fertility should remain strong. “If a bull passes a BSE he is physically and reproductively sound enough to breed cows regardless of age and cattle producers should see optimum pregnancy rates as long as they are using the proper bull to cow ratio,” Davis explained. 

 Determining the proper bull to cow ratio depends on the age of the bull. Livestock specialists recommend using the following rule of thumb; bulls 12 to 30 months old can service about as many cows as the bulls’ age in months. For example, an 18-month-old bull can service 18 cows. However, when the bull is older than 30 months, typically a 1 to 30 ratio of bull to cows is optimum.

Getting Results

Livestock specialists say getting a BSE for bulls is one the best ways for producers to ensure their operation has an optimum cow pregnancy rate and calf crop percentage. Cows calving is critical for profit potential in cow/calf beef operations. 

 Livestock specialists encourage producers to take the proper steps to ensure their bulls are healthy, fertile and structurally sound. What a travesty it would be to turn out a tried-and-true bull, only to find out months later he was not capable of breeding cows. An extensive BSE is the best way to avoid any pitfalls.


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