Breeding soundness exams not an expense to cut

February 22, 2009 06:00 PM

Producers have many opportunities to spend money during the year and feel they need to "skimp” on a few things. However, Breeding Soundness Exams (BSE) are not one of the   expenses producers should cut, advises Wendy R. Flatt, University of Missouri Extension Livestock Specialist.

BSEs start with:

  1. physical examination of the bulls,
  2. evaluation of the reproduction system and
  3. a semen quality appraisal.   

The physical examination of the bulls usually starts with observing structural soundness of the bull; eyes, teeth, legs, feet, condition of the bull. If the bull passes this initial inspection, the veterinarian will then look at the scrotum, testicles, penis and conduct a rectal examination to see if the bull has any internal abnormalities. Scrotal circumference should be measured during the examination. For yearling bulls, 30 cm is the absolute minimum while mature bulls should have a scrotal circumference of greater than 34 cm. The third phase of the BSE consists of semen collection via electro-ejaculation and an evaluation of  primary characteristics such as semen motility (activity), morphology (percent normal sperm cells) and overall sperm production.  

Flatt says some things to consider when doing BSE tests:

  • Bulls (11-13 months old) that do not pass this early test should be retested every 3 to 4 weeks. With additional time, many of these bulls will become "satisfactory breeders”. However, culling should be considered for bulls that do not pass a semen exam by 16 months of age.
  • Schedule the exam near the beginning of the breeding season, but still leave sufficient time for re-examination of the bulls, if needed.
  • A BSE exam is like a "snapshot” in time. A bull classed as "satisfactory” does not mean he will always be an acceptable breeder since physiological changes or injury may occur even during the breeding season.
  • Allocate sufficient time on the day(s) of testing. It is a time consuming procedure and should not be rushed.
  • Sound feet and legs are very important. Trim hooves three to six weeks before you turn the bulls out.
  • Body condition is just as important in bulls as it is in cows and heifers. The target body condition of bulls prior to breeding season is 6 (the ribs appear smooth across their sides).
  • Observe the bulls breeding behavior. Bulls that have a low libido may be disinterested or incapable of mounting and breeding a cow.   

For questions or comments, e-mail Kim Watson, editor Beef Today.
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