Take Bull Health by the Horns

Breeding soundness exams, DNA testing helps ensure breeding success and improved herd health

Breeding season is just around the corner and many producers are busy getting ready for spring turnout. However, even while cows are in the spotlight, its important producers remember bulls need a check up as well.

“Obviously, bulls have a big role to play in reproduction,” says Glenn Rogers, DVM, Veterinary Operations, Pfizer Animal Health. “One in 10 bulls is subfertile,1 and that’s why testing bulls prior to breeding season is good practice. In fact, bulls that pass a breeding soundness exam (BSE) result in a 6 percent greater fertility advantage over untested bulls.”2

A complete BSE prior to breeding season can help identify bulls with impaired fertility to help improve breeding productivity as well.

“Bulls should be checked 30-45 days before breeding season so producers have time to replace bulls if needed,” Dr. Rogers says.

While bulls are in the chute for BSEs, producers also should consider completing other animal health and management protocols, such as deworming, vaccinating and gathering samples for genetic testing, according to Mark Allan, Ph.D., associate director, Global Technical Services, Pfizer Animal Genetics.

“BSEs give producers a natural opportunity to collect DNA samples to identify how to use genetics effectively in their operations,” Allan says. “Building an archive of samples on the bull battery is the first step. Having a tissue sample on file also allows producers to take advantage of several simple tests in order to help solve or prevent management problems.”

In fact, DNA-marker technology from Pfizer Animal Genetics can help producers make the most of their bull batteries with products like SireTRACE®, GeneSTAR®, High Density 50K (HD 50K) for Black Angus and testing for genetic defects, Allan says.

“If a producer has purchased new bulls, and following that purchase has a group of calves with either desirable or undesirable performance such as really high birth weights, SireTRACE can be used to identify the bull or bulls those calves are out of,” Allan says. “Producers also could use GeneSTAR to identify homozygous black bulls and sort them to pastures with red females to maximize the number of black calves.”

In multisire breeding situations, SireTRACE enables producers to determine parentage and match sires with their offspring and track performance. Producers can then retain or cull sires based on documented progeny performance, and better manage future breeding groups based on differences in apparent dominance and historic serving capacity, calving difficulty and other progeny performance measures, as well as manage inbreeding and hybrid vigor by identifying the sires of replacement heifers.

For producers looking to improve key traits affecting profitability, GeneSTAR can help evaluate key efficiency and palatability traits. With this information in hand, producers can select breeding stock that transmit desired genetic merit for feed efficiency, tenderness, marbling and black color. Identification of animals with desired genetics for consumer satisfaction traits allows for more effective selection and specialized marketing.

“Not doing BSEs on a bull battery is like playing Russian roulette,” Allan says. “It only takes getting stung once to know you have to do them. Just like deworming and vaccination, genetic testing and BSEs should be a part of producers’ herd health and management checklist.”

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