Beef 911: A close examination of the Breeding Soundness Evaluation form

Evaluating a bull isn’t straightforward and there are a number of factors to consider

black bull grazing in a pasture

In talking with astute, diligent and thorough cattlemen, it’s come to my attention that a close examination of the Breeding Soundness Evaluation form is clearly warranted.

All conscientious breeders will make them available before a sale or for sure at the point of delivery. Specific things on the form may be more applicable depending on the specific use of the bull.

Has the bull just passed his test in one or more categories? Does his scrotal circumference just make the breed minimum? Do other specific things catch your attention, such as have there been warts removed, did the bull have a frenulum, old cuts on the penis, etc.? A frenulum could be hereditary, but is only carried through on the male side so a commercial breeder should have no issue as all his bulls will become steers. But a purebred breeder should shy away from a herd prospect that has had a frenulum cut. A frenulum, by the way, is a ligamentous attachment which attaches to the tip of the penis and doesn’t allow it to extend at erection.

Is there any issue whatsoever with his feet or legs, which could affect future usage? No bull is perfect, but still the most important comment is, ‘In the vet’s opinion is the bull considered satisfactory on that day?’

Other issues are comments on the forms such as a bit softer testicles, a size difference in the testicles, or he did not protrude (meaning the penis did not extend out of the sheath). No protrusion could mean there was just not enough or overstimulation of the bull or it could mean there is a physical problem. The physical problem could be to do with an erectile dysfunction or scarring of the penis to the side of the sheath and as a result no protrusion. Sometimes we may see a large swelling in the sheath which points to a potential problem. I have even seen a couple of bulls over the years with such a large wart on the penis as to be unable to protrude or the wart scarred the sheath to itself. The very odd bull goes down before we can stimulate him very much and these are unlikely to protrude as well. It is ideal to visualize the penis every time. Another way could be on all those that don’t protrude to tranquilize them after the semen sample is collected and their penis will extend passively. At least one veterinarian I know does this and then can honestly say he has visualized the working apparatus.

Many of the smaller issues we all comment on, but may not really have much of a detrimental effect on the bull’s breeding ability.

The veterinarian’s comment of softer testicles is still very subjective and may identify a problem or could simply be the variation we see between bulls. If you have herd bull’s semen tested every year, compare evaluations year to year to compare differences. If you see decreased results, in other words, such as morphological defect increasing or testicles, which are shrinking, that may indicate impending failure the following year.

Bigger testicles may yield a greater serving capacity as long as libido is good and physically the bull is sound. We have seen instances where abnormally large testicles will be detrimental to breeding ability. So bigger is not always necessarily better.

Keep in mind that some bulls reach puberty a little later in their first year, so the yearling semen evaluations will on average be below the quality of the two-year-old and older bulls. You are not really comparing apples to apples, and generally speaking, the yearlings will be running with fewer cows. We need to compare semen evaluations between bulls of the same age group.

Another caution flag could be with bulls with evidence of seminal vesiculitis. The majority of these bulls clears up either on their own or with treatment. Some will never clear up and it is important they have a clean bill of health before using them. Most veterinarians will stain the supposed recovered semen sample and check very closely for white blood cells (pus) cells to make sure there has been a complete recovery.

As always with all semen evaluations usually both the libido and ability to breed are best checked by observing the bull in his first few matings. If you need bulls with higher-serving capacity closely scrutinize the ones which just pass the semen morphology, or just make the breed minimum for scrotal size. If you have any questions, talk to the breeder. They are more than happy to help you select the bull that best fits your needs. Characteristics such as polled/horned, colour dominance, carcass characteristics and genetic testing can all be discussed. There are copious amounts of data on bulls these days. The trick is determining what are the important ones for you the purchaser and selecting based on your criteria.

The old adage, you pay for quality, holds true in the bull business as well.

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