This time of year, many producers have calves already on the ground or some hitting the ground and are preparing for breeding season. With breeding season here, it’s time to have the veterinarian perform a Breeding Soundness Evaluation (BSE) on the herd sires.

There are some who would argue it costs too much to pay someone to perform the evaluation, or that one isn’t needed because the bulls did just fine last year. Those attitudes bring two questions to mind:

  • If a BSE costs too much, then how much does it cost to not sell any calves next fall?
  • If there’s not enough time to have a BSE performed on your bulls, then how much time is available next spring to watch a herd of open cows not calve?

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The bull makes up half of every mating opportunity. He is necessary to produce a calf, and it’s integral that he is physically sound and fertile to improve the odds of conception. An infertile bull can cost an entire calf crop. The cost associated with no calves to market due to infertility is the cost of carrying those cows for a full year, plus the opportunity cost associated with the resources used on the cattle herd that likely could have been devoted to something else with a positive return.

While an infertile bull can cost a small fortune depending on the size of the cattle herd, a sub-fertile bull can also mean significant costs to a producer in two ways – a reduced conception and calving rate, and in pounds at weaning if he fails to settle a cow during her first heat cycle.

To explore this further, let’s consider an operation with 30 cows. The difference between a 90% calf crop (27 calves) with a fertile bull, and an 80% calf crop (24 calves) with a sub-fertile bull is three fewer calves from the sub-fertile bull. If those three additional calves from the fertile bull weighed 525 lbs. at weaning and brought $194/cwt., then they’d be worth $1,018.50/head, or a total of $3,055.50.

But the story doesn’t end there. Even if a sub-fertile bull settles the cows later in the season, it can cost a producer because cows bred in the first heat cycle will typically wean heavier calves than cattle settled in the second or third heat cycle.