Beef 911: The last thing you want to see in a prized bull

Injuries that prevent a bull from breeding can be successfully treated, and about 50 per cent of cases will heal

bulls in a pasture pen

Numerous times during the breeding season, calls come in to veterinary clinics in regards to swellings along the sheath of bulls.

In many instances, a favourable outcome is highly attainable. And with today’s bull prices this may be good news.

The location of the swelling says a lot about its cause. Generally if the penis has been broken the swelling is just ahead of the scrotum. Swellings lower down on the sheath are common with lacerations to either the penis or the prepuce.

A broken penis is the result of a rent created in the sinus of the penis. Blood accumulates in the sinus causing the erection. A sudden bend to an erect penis such as being hit when breeding will cause such a break. Then in subsequent breeding attempts, blood is pumped out through this defect. The blood is trapped in this location causing the visible swelling. The degree of swelling therefore depends on how many breeding attempts have been made before the producer can pull the bull from the breeding herd. Some bulls will be turned off sexually and may not attempt further breeding.

To diagnose a cut penis, your veterinarian will either sedate the bull to have a good look at his penis or use an electro ejaculator to be able to visualize it. Cuts are the result of breeding in bush, over fences, etc. Some bulls are more prone because of their aggressive nature. A few polled bulls have a tendency to have their sheath prolapsed constantly. All these things greatly increase the likelihood of lacerations and tears.

Complications involve several scenarios, which can be vastly different in each case. Large cuts can result in infection and subsequent scarring which could prevent the bull from extending his penis, therefore not achieving intromission. I personally have seen a case where 100 per cent of a herd was open because the herd bull had a scarred-down penis from an injury the previous year. This is another very good reason to semen evaluate and make sure the penis can be fully extended.

If severe swelling has occurred, the prepuce may be prolapsed. This can also occur with broken penises and the resulting drying, swelling and cracking of the prolapsed prepuce cause a serious complication. Hydrotherapy with medicating ointments is often prescribed. The swelling must be brought down to allow retraction of the prepuce back into the sheath. In all these cases the bulls can be immediately shipped for emergency slaughter as long as no medication has been given. However, a vast majority can be treated so depending on age of bull and his value to your herd this option is always available.

Treatment is not complicated or costly; some labour and the tincture of time with sexual rest resolve many of them. Broken penises require hydrotherapy initially and then a long sexual rest. A few months later the bull may be tested to see if erection is possible. About 50 per cent of the cases will heal (if caught early before large swellings have occurred), but they do have a higher incidence of reoccurring than normal bulls.

Surgery was tried more often in the past but because of the large blood clot that formed, infection is a very real complication. Prognosis is no better than the conservative medical approach. The blood clot is absorbed over time and as long as adhesions are minimized with hydrotherapy, infection is unlikely.

Cut penises involve careful scrutinization by your veterinarian. Flushing medication up the sheath along with hydrotherapy and systemic drugs are used in bad cases. Minor cases will be left with just sexual rest and time. If breeding is allowed, the laceration may be extended. As well, blood is very detrimental to sperm. With fresh cuts this mixing of blood and sperm can result in very poor fertility.

Many minor cuts heal on their own as we see from the scars on penises at semen evaluation in subsequent years. These cuts most likely occurred the previous breeding season. The seriousness of the injury will determine prognosis and estimated return to function. Some minor cuts will be healed and the bull ready to use in two to three weeks, but they should be checked to make sure complete healing has occurred. A high percentage of cuts will heal however, keeping that bull till the next breeding season may be warranted depending on the value of the bull. Again, that choice is made based on the value of the bull, his age, and when in the breeding season the laceration occurred.

When checking your bulls during the breeding season watch for full extension when breeding, blood on breeding, and keep a careful watch of the sheath area for any abnormal swellings. If anything is noticed, pull them immediately and get them attended to.

About the author


Roy Lewis practised large-animal veterinary medicine for more than 30 years and now works part time as a technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.



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