Breeding soundness exams for bulls provide cattle producers with valuable information to help producers save money. Breeding soundness exams, also known as bull fertility testing, are a fairly quick and inexpensive way to ensure a productive breeding season.
Producers have two options to determine if a bull will be fertile or not. Producers can have bulls tested by a veterinarian or turn the bulls out and wait to see how many cows are bred. The practice of allowing nature to take its course can be expensive for producers.
It can take three to six weeks before producers realize there is a problem, said Johnny Gunsaulis, University of Arkansas cooperative extension specialist. “Say a bull with low fertility is turned out with 25 cows; if you notice these cows returning to heat in just three weeks, this means your calf-crop has been delayed 21 days. Suppose the calves on the cow gained two pounds a day; 25 calves would have gained over 1,000 pounds. At one dollar per pound, the producer loses over 1,000 dollars. 30 days can be expensive,” Gunsaulis said.
The exam requires a trip to the veterinarian’s office, and about 15 to 20 minutes and around 40 dollars per animal.
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. 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.
If a bull is discovered to be sub-fertile, minimal sperm count being deemed as inadequate to bred, the first thing producers should do is think back 60 to 90 days. “By looking back we can determine what might have caused the low fertility,” Gary Naylor, University of Missouri extension specialist, said, “If the bull was running a fever, had an illness and extremely hot or extremely cold weather can all effect fertility.” Wait 30 days and retest the bull. Some bulls can be treated or may improve with time. “Test far enough in advance to have time to move to plan B,” said Gunauslis.
“If you’re looking for an insurance policy have bulls checked about 60 days ahead of time,” Naylor said. If a bull tests sub-fertile producers will have to find another bull or artificial inseminate the herd. The use of artificial insemination is increasing with heat synchronization. “Labor is the key reason producers don’t use AI, watching for heat and moving cows in to AI is very labor intensive,” Naylor said. Whereas naturally, the bull does all of this for you. It is easier for dairy cattle producers to artificially inseminate, because the cows are brought in twice a day, Naylor said. Naylor estimates that about 90 percent of beef cattle are bred naturally. The UA Cooperative Extension Service will be hosting a fertility clinic this spring for producers, in the Fayetteville, Ark, area. Watch our calendar for more information.