In between wrapping bales, we had the vet out to do some reproductive testing on our new bull.
The three letters BSE can mean two (at least) different things in the cattle industry. BSE – Bovine spongiform encephalopathy – is also known as Mad Cow Disease. That’s a bad thing. We’re not here to talk about that. BSE – Breeding Soundness Exam – is a good thing. It’s an assessment of a bull’s soundness and fertility, preformed by a vet, before he goes in with cows.
Once we’ve selected a bull (based on breed, breeding goals, and temperament), there are three main things we need to verify so we can be sure he can get the job done.
He has to be physically sound. He has 65 days to get a group of forty cows bred, and it’s demanding work. He’s not complaining, but he needs to have some energy stored heading in, because even the best bulls can look pretty rough coming out of breeding season. He’s going to be spending most of his time walking, covering a lot of ground, spending hours “dogging” the cow that he senses will be the next one ready to be bred. A bull needs four solid legs, and sufficient body condition to maintain his fertility throughout the breeding season. Any cattle manager can look at a bull and decide whether he meets this first requirement.
Second is fertility. And there basically two ways to determine that. One is to just put the bull in with the cows and see what happens. Or you can have the vet out to perform a BSE – breeding soundness exam – to test a bull’s fertility. Using a electroejaculator, a semen sample is obtained, and assessed under a microscope. Motility – the ability to move, morphology – whether the sperm cells are normal, and count- it varies with age – are the things we’re looking for here.
Third is libido. Does the bull want to do his job? Some bulls are flat out not interested in breeding cows, and these are the bulls that will put a hurting on your business. Observation is about your only tactic here.
We never got to the third step. Our bull failed his fertility test miserably. The few swimmers that he had weren’t swimming, so his next job will be at Arby’s. “Buy New Bull” just got added to out to-do list!