breeding soundness exam

A Breeding Soundness Exam: Insurance for Your Breeding Season

A breeding soundness examination offers some reassurance before the breeding season.

I received the call on a Monday. I seem to receive this call 6-8 times each year. This particular rancher had just finished getting his cows diagnosed for pregnancy. He had 43 falling-calving cows. Last fall, these cows were synchronized for artificial insemination (AI) and were exposed to one bull for about five weeks, and a second bull for seven weeks. Only 22 cows conceived and all of them conceived to the AI date. The first question I asked this rancher was the obvious one; did you get a breeding soundness exam (BSE) performed on your bulls? His response was that the bulls had a BSE [3] when he bought them, but not in the last 2-3 years. We checked the bulls and, sure enough, both were infertile.

What is a BSE? A BSE is a fertility exam [4] performed on bulls by a veterinarian. A BSE has three components – scrotal circumference, a physical exam, and a semen evaluation.

• Scrotal circumference is highly correlated with semen output and serving capacity. It is recommended that a 12-13-month-old bull have a scrotal circumference of at least 30 cm.

• The physical exam is performed to simply ensure that a bull is physically up to the challenge of the breeding [5] season. Are his feet and legs structurally correct? Is he free from injury and/or infection?

• The veterinarian then examines the bull's [6] semen to determine if the sperm cells are normal.

The bull is then graded as satisfactory, unsatisfactory, or deferred. Bulls [7] classified as unsatisfactory are considered infertile, and shouldn't be used for breeding. Bulls that receive the deferred classification have some irregularities in their ejaculate and a second collection is required to determine his fertility. A BSE is a highly reliable tool to use to identify bulls that are infertile.

Results from surveys nationally and in Kentucky indicate that fewer than 30% of cattlemen routinely subject their bulls to a BSE. I am amazed by how few people obtain a BSE in their herd bull before each breeding season. We purchase car, health, life, and crop insurance why wouldn't we purchase a little breeding-season insurance? We protect ourselves against most disasters but we don't protect our cow herd from the ultimate disaster? A BSE will cost $50-100 so it is a fairly inexpensive, easy form of risk management.

I'm fairly certain that the cattleman that called me wished he had gotten a BSE on his bulls before he found out that he had 21 open cows. The $150 investment in breeding insurance (BSE) seems small compared to the lost income from 21 cows ($15-18,000). So protect your investment. Obtain a BSE on all your bulls 30 days before every breeding season.


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