Be sure to have your veterinarian conduct a breeding soundness exam.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

December 16, 2020

2 Min Read
Bulls in field
GETTING THEM READY: Proper nutrition and a breeding soundness exam will help ensure that your bulls are ready to go for this upcoming breeding season. Curt Arens

Bulls can lose a lot of weight and condition during one breeding season. Young and thin bulls, especially, need extra attention and nutrition over late summer and winter to get them ready for another breeding season.

Kacie McCarthy, Nebraska Extension beef cow-calf specialist, said the overall nutrient requirements of bulls varies, depending on size and age. She gave an example during a recent University of Nebraska BeefWatch webinar.

A younger bull weighing 1,200 pounds at the beginning of a 90-day breeding season might go into the season with a body condition score of 5. After 90 days of breeding, that bull might be down to 900 pounds in weight and have a BCS of 3.

The goal would be to offer late-summer and winter grazing for that bull with grain or byproduct supplements and proper minerals to bring him back up to 1,500 pounds and a BCS of 6 before the next breeding season.

Breeding soundness exams

In addition to nutrition, producers need to worry about winter frostbite of scrotal tissue on the bulls, and the effect of that on sperm quality.

“Sperm quality impacts pregnancy rates,” McCarthy said. “We recommend doing breeding soundness exams on bulls you buy, or bulls you already own, 30 to 60 days before breeding season to help identify potential problems and ensure they are satisfactory breeders."

While the BSE is only a snapshot view of the overall semen production of the bull, it can help screen potential problems.

The procedure, performed by a veterinarian, looks at the general physical health and the bull’s nutritional status and BCS. The exam looks for structural defects and potential disease conditions that would affect breeding performance.

Eyes, teeth, and feet and legs are evaluated, as well as the internal and external structures of the reproductive system. Scrotal measurements are taken and checked with the normal standards for the age of the bull.

Finally, a semen evaluation will look under a microscope at sperm motility and the morphological percentage of normal sperm, to see if these fall within satisfactory standards. Bulls that fail their initial BSE could be rechecked two to four weeks later to establish if they have improved and can move into the satisfactory category.

At the same time as the BSE, it is a good time to vaccinate bulls, control lice and flies, and check their feet and legs, McCarthy said.

“You should reintroduce the bulls to each other and give them plenty of room at this time to establish dominance,” she noted. “They will head-butt, so make sure there are no extra objects in the area that could make for injuries.”

Learn more by contacting McCarthy at [email protected]. Producers can view past topics and register for upcoming webinars at

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

Subscribe to Our Newsletters
BEEF Magazine is the source for beef production, management and market news.

You May Also Like