Bull Soundness Exams Ensure Beef Herd Productivity, Profitability

University of Illinois specialist offers checklist for beef producers to ensure bull soundness

With beef producers focusing on rebuilding a dwindling national beef herd, bull soundness is more important than ever, because every cow counts.

University of Illinois Extension beef specialist Travis Meteer explained that bull management strategies play a major role in ensuring that cows re-breed.

"The most obvious management strategy a cattle producer can deploy is conducting a breeding soundness exam on bulls. All bulls that will be used in a breeding season need to be tested. Without a breeding soundness exam, producers are taking a huge risk," he said.

Related: EPDs: Selecting Bulls for Easy Calving

But many producers avoid bull soundness exams because of the cost. Meteer says, however, that breeding soundness exams are relatively low-cost and can provide a great return on the investment.

"A BSE should be conducted by a veterinarian each year prior to turnout. Environmental factors, age, and injury can all affect a bull's fertility from year to year," Meteer said.

Check locomotion, physical appearance
With a particularly harsh winter of 2014, checking bulls for frostbite damage, which can cause short-term and long-term infertility, is important.

Bulls should also be evaluated for mobility, body condition score, age, and other functional traits. Bulls need to possess a free-moving gait with no signs of lameness.

Related: How Much Should You Pay For a Herd Bull?

Hoof shape, joints, and locomotion speed also need to be appraised in a bull soundness exam. Long toes, cracked hooves, or signs of foot rot are characteristics that can cause lameness and subsequent failure of that bull to service cows. Swollen, fluid-filled joints may be signs of structural incorrectness or injury that may affect the number of cows a bull can cover.

"Simply looking at the speed and comfort of a bull during locomotion can be valuable in determining his functionality as a walking herdsire," Meteer said.

Maintaining proper BCS
Bulls need to be in good body condition with an ideal BCS of 5 or 6, Meteer says. Bulls that are too thin or too fat can pose problems. Bulls generally lose weight during a breeding season because they are focused on breeding and traveling to service ready-to-breed cows.

On the other hand, bulls that are too fat may be out of shape and more fatigued when servicing cows. Over-fat bulls are also prone to infertility during hot weather as fat around the scrotum limits cooling and thermoregulation.

Related: Select a Quality Clean-up Bull

Bulls should also be transitioned nutritionally. "Feeding bulls a balanced diet in a drylot situation where feed is close and readily available is far different than a big pasture full of cows needing bred," Meteer says. Lush spring grass is not nearly as nutrient dense as hay and grain offered in the drylot setting.

"Transitioning bulls to pasture is important in making sure they don't 'melt' or 'crash' when they go to pasture to breed," he said.

Meteer suggests feeding a low-protein, high-energy supplement at 2 to 4 pounds per head per day, which can be crucial for yearling bulls. These bulls will have higher nutrient requirements than mature bulls because they are still growing, Meteer says.

Continue to review behavior
Once bulls are in the pasture or breeding pen, they need to be monitored for libido. Bulls need to be checked for activity and to make sure they are servicing cows in heat. Sunup and dusk are good times to check to see if bulls are breeding cows.

"Open cows are a major drain on profitability of a cow/calf operation. There is no doubt that reproduction is a sensitive mechanism and is vulnerable to several factors," Meteer said. "However, evaluating bulls to ensure they are capable of servicing cows is the starting point to making sure your breeding season is successful."


How will the March 31 USDA reports impact your bottom line? Farm Futures Senior Market Analyst Bryce Knorr and Farm Futures Senior Editor Bob Burgdorfer will discuss the reports and the spring weather outlook in a free webinar April 7 at 7 p.m. CDT. Learn more about the Farm Futures webinar.

If you missed the webinar, check out Bryce Knorr's Morning Market Review updated every day by 7:30 a.m. CDT.


Source: University of Illinois

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