BEEF Editors' Blog

Skipping The Basics Can Carry A Big Bottom-Line Penalty


Skipping basic cattle husbandry steps is reminiscent of the tagline for the old Fram Oil Filter commercial of a couple of decades back, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”

A breeding soundness exam (BSE) is a fertility exam performed on bulls by a veterinarian; ideally it’s performed annually. It consists of three components – scrotal circumference, a physical exam, and a semen evaluation, and it typically costs between $50 and $150/bull. That’s not an insignificant amount of money, but it pales in comparison to the lost revenue of open or late-calving cows.

Yet, as Les Anderson, University of Kentucky Extension beef specialist, points out, fewer than 30% of U.S. cattlemen routinely subject bulls to a BSE. That's according to the latest data from the National Animal Health Monitoring Survey (NAHMS).

“I am amazed by how few people obtain a BSE in their herd bull before each breeding season,” Anderson says. “We purchase car, health, life, and crop insurance; why wouldn't we purchase a little breeding-season insurance?”

To illustrate his point, Anderson cites a producer who contacted him to say he wished he had BSE-tested his bulls prior to breeding season. His moment of clarity came when he found 21 open cows (out of a total of 43 head) that had been serviced by two bulls that turned out to be infertile.

Anderson says the rancher told him the bulls had received a BSE at purchase 2-3 years before, but hadn’t had one since. The bottom line to the story is that the hundred dollars or so this rancher saved in not performing BSEs on his two bulls ahead of breeding season, ended up costing him $15-20,000 in lost income from the 21 cows that were open.


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Anderson’s story puts a great perspective on the value of being proactive. Unfortunately, however, a shortfall in proactive management doesn’t appear to be that uncommon in today’s U.S. beef industry. According to the 2007 (NAHMS) Beef/Cow-Calf report:

  • More than 60% of all operations did not vaccinate calves for anything prior to weaning.
  • More than 80% of all operations did not vaccinate replacement heifers for any reproductive diseases.
  • More than 80% of all operations did not vaccinate replacement heifers for any respiratory diseases.
  • 75% of all operations did not vaccinate replacement heifers for the respiratory/reproductive diseases (IBR/BVD).
  • More than 90% of all operations did not do any diagnostic screening for internal parasites.

As Jay Brown, founder and president of Vetgate Global (, pointed out in a recent edition of BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly: “The NAHMS report documents that most cows, calves, and bulls in the U.S. cow-calf herd aren’t receiving optimum animal health care.”

But, there’s a very real bottom-line impact to this shortfall as well. Brown points out that research indicates that cattle that suffer from respiratory disease during the grazing or feedlot phase yield lower-quality, less tender carcasses, which translate into less value. In addition, cattle infected with even a subclinical case of internal and/or external parasites have lower-grading carcass grades, lower red meat yields, and produce poorer-grading hides.

The situation is reminiscent of the tagline for the old Fram Oil Filter commercial a couple of decades back, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”

The U.S. beef industry can and should strive to do better.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 1

DM05 (not verified)
on Mar 27, 2014

Those statistics say "percent of operations," and the average operation has around 35-40 cows. It would be interesting to see the data when sorted for herd size and even off farm income. As a veterinarian, I will never forget a client telling me "calves are worth so much already, why should I precondition them?" At the risk of painting with a board brush, that statement says a lot about the difference between cattlemen and men with cattle.

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Everyday musings from BEEF Editors on the latest beef industry news and events.


Burt Rutherford

Burt has more than 35 years of experience communicating about beef industry issues. A Colorado native and graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in agricultural journalism, he now works...

Wes Ishmael

Among the industry’s most insightful thinkers, Wes Ishmael concentrates on industry price and market perspectives for BEEF magazine. Along with his monthly “Cattle Economics” column...

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