The Importance of Fertility

The beef market is seeing prices that are unprecedented! The demand is very strong for a limited supply. For a cow calf operation, calving rate has always been critical but with these prices it is emphasized. The goal is to have 100% weaned calves for every cow that is exposed for breeding. In addition, to have these calves born with a 60 day calving season, a realistic goal is 90%

There are a number of contributing factors to herd fertility – the overall health of the cowherd, the condition of the cowherd and the overall management of the cow herd. There are times when things with the cows are perfect but an issue with the bull has caused a conception problem. It is important to monitor the bull(s) for health, condition and activity. Bulls that are lame, injured or undernourished will have difficulty settling cows.

Mature bull tested and ready to go to work.

Figure 1: Mature bull tested and ready to go to work.

It was a cold hard winter. Herdbulls should be checked for frostbite affecting their scrotum.

It is a good practice to have your veterinarian conduct a complete breeding soundness evaluation (BSE) on your bull(s) before the breeding season. This will include a physical examination of the external and internal reproductive organs.

A BSE also provides an assessment of semen quality and quantity. Semen testing will assess the motility, morphology and volume.

Results for mature bulls are generally pass or fail. Young bulls (less than 15 months) may get a questionable result, and if so should be tested again in a few weeks as they become sexually mature. Keep in mind that 60 days are necessary for the development of sperm, so sudden changes should not be made at least 60 days before the breeding season.

Although the bull sales season has passed, there are always some good bulls available. Take advantage of an expert in the selection of a new bull to ensure he meets the goals of your operation.

With the purchase of a new bull come some extra management procedures. Generally, bulls will lose weight during the breeding season. Ideally, time should be allocated for adjustments to your operation including the ration. Muscle tone is important for the breeding season, so prior to the breeding season bulls should be kept in an area where there is enough room for exercise. A general rule of thumb for young bulls is exposing them to one cow for every month of age.

Watch the bull closely and keep track of which cows are being bred and look for any repeats. Some extra time monitoring the herd should eliminate any surprises at preg check time.

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