Earlier bull sales can complicate semen evaluations

Purebred bulls that are bought at sales held months before breeding season will likely need to be rechecked.  |  File photo

Purebred bull sales in all breeds appear to be happening earlier and earlier in the year, some even occurring in December.

This is months before many cattle producers plan to use them in their breeding programs.

It can create difficulties for veterinarians to get these bulls’ semen evaluated ahead of time. Both sellers and buyers of these bulls may need to take this into account when it comes to 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 is performed. You cannot move the sale dates earlier and expect younger bulls that are just a year old or younger to pass the soundness exam.

This is why many breeders are calving later 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.

Some young bulls may have awkwardness and take a bit longer to get their ability to breed, so it is vital to observe any virgin bull for its ability to breed and carry out a test mating, if possible.

Semen tests conducted a long time before a sale can be retested. If problems like warts, frenulums, hair rings or cuts on the penis are found, adequate time can be given for healing and rechecking.

Breeders with very early sales may need to test later before delivery.

Bulls that have failed the early test may need to be replaced, requiring more spares by the breeder. As well, these bulls can only be insured for death after the sale because they have not passed a breeding soundness exam.

If an animal bought in an early sale later fails a breeding soundness test just before the breeding season, it could prove difficult for the breeder to find an equivalent-valued bull and it may be too late to attend other sales to find a replacement.

Before these early sales, breeders should have a veterinarian conduct scrotal measurements on a bull prospect and palpate its testicles and internal sex glands. This may identify problems. Seminal vesiculitis if not too advanced may be treated and bulls with small or problem testicles, or bulls with bad frostbite can be pulled at that time.

These evaluations can eliminate the obvious culls and minimize sold bulls being culled later.

Even though many breeders are good at scrotal measurements, I think it is better to get the objective opinion of a veterinarian.

Young bulls could have testicles growing from about one to two centimetres per month between 10 and 15 months of age. This should be taken into account when it comes to scrotal circumference and knowing the averages for the breeds. Different breeds and ages written on the back of the Western Canadian Association of Bovine Practitioners semen forms is all good information to know.

As a final note, if you buy a bull months before it is being turned out, most veterinarians and producers recommend retesting to be sure nothing has happened since the purchase.

I have seen everything from testicular degeneration to frenulum issues that were missed. Also, as the seller, if you notice any potential illnesses, swelling in the sheath, tag sticking to the bottom of the testicles or any other worrying signs, retest the bull. This gives you peace of mind because at the end of the day the goal is getting more females pregnant in a short period of time for you and your bull customers.

Have a close look at the bull’s semen evaluation forms and make sure they are provided at the bull sales.

Here’s to a great bull sale (mainly virtual) for the 2021 year.

Roy Lewis works as a veterinarian in Alberta.

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