What's on your Breeding Soundness Exam Checklist?

Published on Fri, 09/28/2018 - 10:05am

 What's on your Breeding Soundness Exam Checklist?

 By Jaclyn Krymowski for American Cattlemen

 If someone, out of the blue, asked you what your breeding soundness examination (BSE) protocol was for your bulls, cows and heifers would you be able to give a concise answer? It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and stress of breeding season. However, slowing down to take the extra steps beforehand can be paramount to avoid some major hiccups and disappointments down the road. Some studies have indicated that herds with some BSE screening process in place have a 5-10% increase in pregnancy.

The bull
Standard BSE protocol for bulls can be broken into three areas: an overall physical examination, an external reproductive examination and a microscopic examination of a semen sample.
A physical examination should ensure that a bull is able to perform all necessary actions to breed cows and feel comfortable doing so. He should have all his senses completely at his disposal. This means he needs to be completely sound, able to walk, jump and move freely without any pain. He must also be able to maintain himself and keep up his vigor and body weight. Your bull, young or old, must “feel good” in order to do his job.
Scrotal circumference is one of the first most obvious parts of a genital examination. This is a good indicator of bull fertility and libido. Having a vet available to do an external palpation of the accessory sex organs, including the seminal vesicles and prostate, is also wise. Condition of the sheath should be taken into consideration, especially for Brahman-influenced bulls who are prone to overly pendulous sheaths. Be sure to check that the penis is free from any sort of injury including scars, sores, lacerations or abscesses.

The three-legged stool that semen quality sits upon are sperm cell concentration, morphology and motility. Ideally, a random sample should show 90% motility with 70% normal sperm cells and an average concentration is 1200 mil/ml.
There is a fourth step that some vigilant cattlemen will take, especially when introducing a new bull to the herd. This is venereal disease testing. Among range cattle, Trichomoniasis, an abortion-causing disease is a big one to test for along with Vibriosis (Campylobacter fetus).  While not a venereal disease, persistently infected (PI) BVD bulls can be detrimental to overall herd health. If you’re using a new bull this test should be absolutely mandatory.

The cows and heifers
While your cows and heifers certainly won’t be working so hard as your bull, they should still be included in your pre-breeding protocol! Taking some pelvic area measurements is a great place to start. Doing so will help you get a pulse on your animals’ overall condition and risk for issues further down the pregnancy road. Alabama Extension, Alabama A& M and Auburn Universities, have a chart of conversion factors to calculate pelvic area once the primary height and width measurements have been taken. Most importantly, this value estimates the deliverable calving weight you can expect each animal to safely tolerate.
If you work closely with your vet, you may consider getting a reproductive tract score (RTS) on some or all of your animals. This score considers the uterine horns, the length, height and width of the ovaries. This is also helpful to keep track of which animals have follicular development and are cycling normally. Maybe you have a freemartin that slipped under the radar or an older cow who you’re on the fence with. These exams will save you money in the long run.
Don’t forget about the obvious general health and welfare of your animals. Be sure to do a general eyeballing of your breeding herd’s status. Watch your yearling weights as heifers reach puberty when they are at 55-65%of their mature body weights, depending on frame size. This ensures that will be 85-90% of their mature weight at the time of calving. Likewise know the body condition scores on everything. Cows that are overly fat are very difficult to get bred.

Remember to vaccinate
Make sure you keep your herd up to date on pre-breeding shots. The “must have” list should include vibrio, lepto, IBR, BVD, BRSV and PI3. This is also an ideal time to see if anything is in need of deworming for parasites both internal and external.
Not only does a BSE protocol ensure your animals can perform at their best for the season ahead, it can also keep your herd health and efficient for the duration of their productive lives.
There are many things to check off on the pre-breeding list, and it can seem a little overwhelming sometimes. The key is routine and taking the time to know your animals from when they’re young. Remember, the effects of well managed reproductive health are long lasting.