Purebred bull sales in all breeds appear to be getting earlier and earlier, some even happening in December.
This is months before many cattle producers are going to use them in their breeding programs. It sometimes creates difficulty for veterinarians to get the bulls’ semen evaluated ahead of time.
Sellers and buyers of these bulls may need to take this into account when getting them ready for breeding season, or to be delivered.
For some breeders who have moved their sales earlier, we must consider how old the bulls are when tested and the climatic conditions around the time the breeding evaluation was performed.
We cannot move the sale date earlier and expect bulls that are just a year or younger to pass the soundness exam. This is why many breeders actually are calving later themselves and going to off-age bulls that may be 18 months of age and will test like two-year-old bulls.
Plus, at breeding season for most owners they have the breeding capacity of a two-year-old bull. It is a good idea to observe virgin bulls for their ability to breed and do a test mating if possible.
A few breeders are picking a more appropriate time to semen test when weather is not a problem. Also, marketing the younger bull from a meat and feeding perspective is a better idea. It is good if you can have a good market for the cull bulls.
Castration can be hard on larger bulls, but depending on the technique it can be safe and relatively pain-free if using local freezing and NSAIDs for pain relief.
The beef code insists on this. I wish there was more of a market for intact yearling bulls or older animals that have failed their breeding soundness exams.
If semen tests are carried out a long time before a sale, problems like warts, frenulums, hair rings or cuts on the penis can be given more time for healing and rechecking.
I have always said that testing a February bull calf in March gives on average poorer results than testing an April calf in May even though they are both 13 months of age. It is much better to test any yearling at 15 months of age because sexual maturity and scrotal size have improved and toward spring, sexual activity increases as well.
All veterinarians would prefer if breeding activity is increased but it is fraught with other problems such as injuries of the feet and legs. Also, back or penile injuries from excessive riding or being ridden can be issues.
Bulls need play things and distractions in their pen, including brushes, oilers, large boulders or other things to keep them occupied.
Overcrowding or empty bunks may lead to boredom and excessive riding. Areas where bulls can get away from each other and not be cornered in pens also help. Good bedding that prevents tag and potentially scrotal frostbite can also save problems at breeding soundness test times.
Breeders with early sales (some already do this) may need to test later before delivery. Several issues are that bulls that fail the test must be replaced and that means the breeder must have spares, although equal-valued replacements may be difficult to find.
Before these early sales, breeders should have a veterinarian carry out scrotal measurements, palpate the testicles and palpate the bulls’ internal sex glands. This may identify problems. Seminal vesiculitis, if not too advanced, may be treated and bulls with small testicles, problem testicles or bad frostbite can be pulled at that time.
Many breeders are capable of getting good scrotal measurements, but I always think it is better to get the objective opinion of a veterinarian and it usually looks better in the purchaser’s eyes.
It is important to communicate that the measurements on young bulls under a year of age could change drastically. Scrotal measurements could grow from one to two centimetres a month on animals between 10 and 15 months of age.
As a final note, if the purchase of a bull comes many months before being turned out, most veterinarians and producers would recommend retesting to be sure nothing has happened in those months in-between.
I have seen everything from testicular degeneration to frenulums that were missed.
Also,any potential problems, such as swelling in the sheath, tag sticking to the bottom of the testicles or anything that gives worry, should be reason to retest the bull.
At the end of the day, the goal is getting more females pregnant in a short period of time.
Have a close look at the bulls’ semen evaluations.
Roy Lewis works as a veterinarian in Alberta.