The Udder Side of the Story
We are almost to the start of summer and it is time to turn out the bulls for spring calves next year. Generally, the most expensive animal on the farm is the bull. And he should be. The bull is the most efficient way to change genetics in your herd and the fastest. You can pay anywhere from butcher price to above $10,000.00. You are taking a big chance on buying a herd bull by paying butcher price at the sale barn. There is generally a good reason for bulls to be at the sale barn. I have tested several at the barn and generally I have more than 50 percent fail a breeding soundness exam. They have also been exposed to all of the diseases at the sale barns. You could also be buying a bull with other problems, like not staying home, mean or not enough libido.
I do recommend purchasing your herd bull from a reputable breeder. You may have to pay more, but look at what you are getting. Generally, good breeders will give you a certain guarantee and will have their veterinarian do a breeding soundness exam prior to the final sale. This breeding soundness exam gives both buyer and seller the knowledge that this bull does have the potential to be a breeder. This exam normally runs around $35.00 to $60.00.
We all want to buy a bull and have this exam done. I hear all the time, "But, what about that bull that has been in the pasture since last year? Is he sound for breeding or not? Well, he did a good job last year, so he should be good this year."
When betting I like a little more of a sure thing. I will pay for the test and take the time and trouble to have it done. If you do not have the test done and your bull is shooting blanks, he is on paid vacation.
This little vacation can cost you big bucks. If you watch your bull and see him breeding the cows the first 21 days, then during the second 21 days you see him breeding the same cows you know you have a problem. Now we have had 40 days pass before we know we are not getting cows bred. The next spring is when this will cost you, by not having calves on the ground gaining weight. If calves will only gain one pound per day and calves are selling for $1.00 per pound, then it is costing $1.00 per day per calf. We normally expect a bull to breed 25 cows in 45 to 60 days. That makes 25 calves with a loss of 40 days or 40 pounds. The math says we lost $1,000.00. If we are not watching the bull and we wait till next spring to find out that the bull was bad, we are in trouble and have lost a whole calf crop. If we expected the bull to breed 30 cows this year and he did not, with calves selling for $500.00 each, that is a loss of 30 calves at $500.00 each or $15,000.00
The time, trouble and cost of a breeding soundness exam on your bull sounds cheap when you look at the costs and gamble if you do not. It is actually considered a good management practice and some financial institutions require it if you have money borrowed with them. The financial institutions that do this want to insure their investment and not play Las Vegas style. So, if you figure gas, time, trouble and the price of the exam, it might cost you around $100.00 to $150.00 to have your bull tested. With the costs and gamble of not having the exam done, it is still a no-brainer.
Dr. Tim O'Neill owns Country Veterinary Clinic in Farmington, Ark.