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Beef bull fertility tests reveal not all bulls make the breeding grade

Beef bull fertility tests reveal not all bulls make the breeding grade
Bull breeding tests allow beef producers to detect problems in their livestock before they have several open cows

When 74 bulls went through the Morgan County Bull Testing program on a cattle farm near Martinsville, Ind., a few days ago, it was the most bulls every tested in one day in that particular program.

Related: What's in a beef bull breeding exam and fertility test?

Why is the program so popular? Perhaps because the stakes are high – with high cattle prices, an open cow or replacement heifer eating feed all year and not producing a valuable calf is a big loss, no matter what size of herd you have.

Bull fertility test: The Morgan County Cattlemen have conducted this bull breeding exam program for years, and the number of bulls tested hit a record high this year.

Chris Parker, former Morgan County Extension educator, who is still active in the Morgan County Cattleman's Association, reports that not every bull that went through breeding soundness exam passed. While the vast majority did, these fertility tests identified a few bulls that didn't, and would likely have trouble getting a sizable number of cows pregnant.

To the beef producer and owner of the bull, it may have been a momentary disappointment. Twenty open cows later in the year would have been a much more costly surprise – and a huge disappointment.

What's in a bull breeding exam?
The bulls are evaluated on several criteria. First, they must make a minimum scrotal size prescribed for the breed of the bull. Just because a bull passes his breeding soundness exam one year doesn't mean he will pass the next year. Last year, a bull that met the requirement the year before and bred cows didn't meet the fertility requirement, and his sperm was also not viable.

The second step is for the vet at the testing process to pull semen form the bull. Bulls are stimulated electrically to ejaculate. The vet looked for live sperm, called motile sperm, swimming when he looks under the microscope. He also looks for abnormalities in the sperm. Some could be missing tails. Others could be misshapen.

Related: Are You Sure Your Herd Bull is Ready? County tests often available

If the sperm are alive and look reasonably normal, the bull gets a temporary "OK." Later, the vet takes the slides collected at the farm back to his lab and does a more thorough evaluation.

"Occasionally he will call the owner back and say that he found problems with the sample when he looked closer," Parker says. "It doesn't happen often, but if something is wrong, it's better for the owner of the bull to know then rather than later."

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