Bull Breeding Soundness Exams

By Megan Van Emon

Montana State University Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

 

One of the most cost efficient methods of a successful breeding program is the breeding soundness exam (BSE) conducted on bulls.  Bulls are responsible for breeding 20 to 50 cows each breeding season while cows are responsible for one calf each year.  Having a BSE conducted on the bulls is crucial to a successful breeding program.

The BSE is an exam conducted by veterinarians that includes a physical exam, semen evaluation, and an internal and external exam of the reproductive tract.  Evaluating the feet, legs, teeth, eyes, flesh cover, and scrotal circumference and shape is included in the physical exam.  The semen evaluation includes semen normality and motility.  The BSE should be conducted 30 to 60 days prior to the beginning of breeding.  It is important to note that the bull’s sperm production cycle is approximately 60 days, and if illness, injury or other issue occurs, this could negatively impact the BSE and breeding capability of the bull and may need to be re-evaluated.  An additional BSE can be conducted at the end of the breeding season to determine if bull fertility decreased throughout the breeding season.

Body condition is crucial for bulls during the breeding season.  Having adequate flesh cover during the breeding season is needed to provide the extra energy required for breeding.  Body condition can be impacted by the number of cows the bull is expected to breed, the distance traveled to breed or eat, and nutrition during the breeding season.  A body condition score 6 or sufficient body condition that the ribs appear smooth across the bull’s side is the ideal flesh cover at the start of the breeding season.

Ensuring bulls are structurally sound in their feet and legs is needed to begin the breeding season.  Bulls with unsound feet and legs will have a difficult time walking and mounting for mating if a significant distance needs to be traveled for breeding.  General health of the bull is also needed to ensure bulls have adequate semen quality and the ability to mate.  Scrotal circumference is an essential measure because it is directly related to sperm production, sperm normality, and the onset of puberty.  The external and internal reproductive tract examinations ensure there is no inflammation, abscesses, warts, or penile deviations.

The semen evaluation includes the measurement of semen motility or the percentage of sperm cells moving in a forward direction.  The bulls needs to at least have 30% sperm motility to pass the BSE.  Sperm morphology, or the proper shape, is also determined and at least 70% of the sperm cells should have a normal shape.

If all of the minimum requirements are met, the bull will be classed as “satisfactory.”  However, if a bull does not pass one of the tests, they will be classed as “classification deferred.”  If a bull is classed as “classification deferred,” the bull should be tested again after 6 weeks.  If a mature bull fails the subsequent BSEs, they will be classified as “unsatisfactory.”  A young bull may be “classification deferred,” and pass the subsequent test.  Exercise caution when making bull culling decisions based on a single BSE. •

Why Should I Keep Records on My Cowherd?

written by John Paterson, PhD

Emeritus Professor at Montana State University

 

When I was visiting about record keeping programs recently, a rancher was overheard to say “I don’t see much use in collecting time consuming individual records for commercial cow herds. Pregnancy testing and my eyeball can let me know all I need to determine if a cow stays for another year.”  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but with increasing demands continually being placed on ranchers to ensure sustainability, records are a necessary part of a ranch business. Records provide benchmarks so that we can determine strengths and weaknesses of our ranch operations and how we demonstrate continuous improvement.  How records are kept varies from the very rudimentary to the very complex.  When asked several ranchers how they kept their records the answers varied: from “On the scale house wall”; “On the back of my Copenhagen can”; “In my IRM Red Book”; “On an Excel Spreadsheet”or  “On a Stand-alone Computer Program”.  The following table summarizes the different types of record keeping systems used by different herd sizes (NAHMS 2011).

When averaged across all operations, 83.3% of ranchers collected information about their operations, with the majority of these records kept in a hand-written form (78.6%). As the herd increased in size, the rancher was more apt to keep records on a computer.

 

In order to collect records, animals need some form of individual identification if the goal is to identify individual animals to monitor changes over time; weaning weights of calves, pregnancy, sire effects, etc.  The following table describes common methods of animal identification. These data were collected between 2007 and 2008 (NAHMS).

The plastic ear tag was the most commonly used form of individual animal identification.  The percentage of operations that used any form of individual animal ID on at least some cows ranged from 59% for operations with 1-49 cows to 89% of operations with 200 or more cows.

 

What information should be collected? Dr. Karl Harborth from LSU wrote an insightful article about where the beef industry could have the greatest impact on sustainability; improving calving rate.  The factors that influenced calving percentage include nutrition, health, genetics and body condition score.  A cow with a low body condition score is one that will have difficulty getting bred in a timely manner to maintain a yearly calving schedule.  In addition to having a goal of a high calving rate, the distribution of when the calves are born can have significant financial consequences.

 

As an example, let’s compare the theoretical calving distribution of two herds, Ideal  vs. Poor.

For the “Ideal” calving  distribution, 90% of the calves were born during the first 42 days compared with only 40% of calves born during the first 42 days for the “Poor” calving distribution.  The later the calves are born in the calving season; the potential for lighter calves at weaning exists. The Ideal system weaned 56,600 lbs. of calf compared to 48,400 lbs. for the Poor distribution system.  At today’s prices, the difference in income value could exceed more than $14,000 if calves sold for $1.80/lb. The challenge for the rancher is to determine what caused the poor distribution.  Was it because the cows were in a poor body condition at breeding time due to drought or poor feeding conditions (look at the number of open cows)?  Was it due to disease (e.g. Trich)?   Or was it due to an infertile bull?  More importantly, how can you correct this problem?

 

Another conclusion that can be garnered from the records is to determine if cows are calving every year. Let’s assume for the “Poor” distribution herd the average calving cycle was increased to 390 days compared with 365 days for the “Ideal” herd.  At 2 lbs./day gain for a nursing calf, this difference for the Ideal herd could be 25 days longer nursing  x 2.0 lbs./day gain x $1.80/lb. value of a weaned calf.  This would mean that cows in the Ideal cowherd could on average produce $90 more calf weaning weight than the Poor cowherd.

 

The new technology that you should consider is to DNA test replacement heifers to determine the ones with high stay-ability, calving ease, gain, docility and weaning weights of their calves.

 

These examples are reasons why simple record keeping can help to identify and solve problems that result in poor calving distribution and reduced weaning weights.  Record keeping systems do not have to be sophisticated; they just need to be used. Hand written results summarized from the IRM Redbook is a great place to start because it will allow you to benchmark your herd and give you clues on how to improve productivity and sustainability.

 

Paterson is currently Territory Manager for GeneSeek Corp. a DNA testing company.

 

Department of Livestock Keeps Watchful Eye on Canadian Tuberculosis Cases

The Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) is actively monitoring the bovine tuberculosis (TB) investigation in Canada. In late September, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) initiated an epidemiological investigation after bovine TB was detected in a Canadian cow at a United States (US) slaughter facility.

As of December 2, 2016, there are six confirmed cases of bovine TB in Canada, including the index animal detected at slaughter in the US. Of the roughly 40 premises currently under quarantine, most are located in Southeast Alberta with about five premises in Saskatchewan. DOL has long standing requirements that cattle coming from Canada need to be tested for TB prior to import.

“Despite what feels like close proximity of this incident, Montana cattle producers remain safe,” said Montana State Veterinarian, Marty Zaluski. “Canada’s vigorous response, combined with our requirement that Canadian cattle be TB tested before entering Montana, keeps the risk low for ranchers in the state.”

Zaluski is not planning to place additional requirements on Canadian cattle coming to Montana at this time. “I am closely monitoring CFIA’s efforts and am ready to act aggressively if needed,” said Zaluski.

Historically, DOL has recognized the efforts of other state and provincial animal health officials to effectively deal with disease events, and expects the same in return.

CFIA policy requires that all positive animals and any animals exposed to positive animals be humanely destroyed. All exposed animals will be tested first and those that test negative will be eligible to enter the food supply. At this time approximately 10,000 cattle are to be destroyed. The strain of TB identified in the index case closely resembles a strain associated with cattle in Central Mexico, suggesting that wildlife are an unlikely source.

The mission of the DOL is to control and eradicate animal diseases, prevent the transmission of animal diseases to humans, and to protect the livestock industry from theft and predatory animals. For more information on the department, visit www.liv.mt.gov.

MSGA has been closely monitoring the recent TB outbreak in Canada. We have corresponded with State Veterinarian, Dr. Martin Zaluski, DVM and the Montana Congressional Delegation in D.C.. We are feeling confident at this time, that Canada’s aggressive response to the outbreak is the right approach and that Montana’s cattle herd should not be impacted.  

Reproductive Vaccines and Technology Advantage | Stockgrowers College Preview

Scruggs photo 2014-2The 2015 Montana Stockgrowers Annual Convention & Trade Show is just a few weeks out. This year’s meeting offers a great lineup of speakers and educational workshops for Montana ranchers. To view all the highlights from this year’s Annual Convention, click here. RSVP on the Facebook event so you do not miss a thing. If you are following along on social media, share your experience (and anticipation!) with the hashtag #MSGA15 on Twitter and Instagram. View the tags from all networks on Tagboard.

Stockgrowers College sessions will be held at different times all three days of the Annual Convention. Times vary and some sessions repeat. Check the final meeting program for times and room assignments.

Zoetis Cattlemen’s College

New vaccine options for reproductive protection in cowherds

Time: Thursday, December 3 at 2:00 p.m.

Speaker: Dr. Daniel Scruggs

Heifer development is of course important to the lifelong productive of the cow.  Heifer development and cow vaccination programs may seem complicated and at sometimes awkward, but results from a 3 years reproductive study at Auburn University reveals some unique options available for cow herd vaccination strategies with solid data on expected protection in the face of BVD and IBR exposure.

Dr. CornersAre we really using all of the available technology to the best of our advantage on the cow calf operation?

Time: Thursday, December 3 at 4:00 p.m., Repeats Friday, December 4 at 10:30 a.m.

Speaker: Dr. Blaine Corners

Cattle producers have spent their lives and vast resources improving genetics on their herd.  Results are apparent in operation after operation.  The questions posed are these:  are we, as an industry, providing supporting management to fully capitalize on genetic gains?  Do we provide basic nutrition that promotes optimal growth, reproductive efficiency, and immune response?  Do we properly safeguard our investments with sufficient and proper vaccination protocol, deworming and strategic use of anti-infectives?  If growth-promoting implants have been pulled from our operations giving us opportunity to sell into niche markets, are potential premiums covering lost productivity?  Do our operations capitalize on time tested feed additives?  Dr. Corners talk will examine a few pieces of gold that we might step over, or just miss completely.

Our sponsor, Zoetis, makes these Stockgrowers College sessions possible. Be sure to visit their booth in the Trade Show – Thursday from 3:00 to 9:00 p.m. or Friday and Saturday from 1:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Why is Biosecurity so important in my cattle operation?

MSU Extension Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock ForumBy Dr. Jeanne M. Rankin, MSU Extension, Agro-Emergency Projects Coordinator- jeanne.rankin@montana.edu

This is the time of year that people are showing their cattle at large exhibitions across the country and exposing them to many other ranches and farms and different diseases and parasites. We don’t often think about the potential to bring home disease from shows that we are so excited to exhibit our animals in to advertise our great breeding programs.

We are busy feeding, clipping and prepping our animals and getting all of the feed and tack ready to go, we often forget to think about minimizing our animals’ risk of picking up an infection at the show. Our animals are tied next to others and may have the ability to be nose to nose with other animals or to share feed and water buckets, thereby increasing the risk of bringing home a disease.

Most diseases of any significance to beef cattle are spread via the respiratory or GI tract- BVD, Johne’s, or any of the shipping fever diseases (IBR, BRSV, Pasturella, Haemophilus or PI3) and take several days to a week to develop an infection in our show animal. Most people might be feeding them separately at home prior to the show but afterwards they are often turned out amongst the rest of that age group, able to spread any respiratory or GI secretions with everybody. By simply keeping them or any new additions to the herd penned separately for 2 -3 weeks we can avoid spreading a contagious disease to our entire herd.

I have heard stories of people going to cattle shows and coming home with either BVD or Johne’s. BVD can be managed and treated- of course with reproductive losses as a potential; but Johne’s disease is completely devastating and impossible to remove from your landscape once it is present. If we can apply good Biosecurity practices for the common diseases we will be able to minimize the risk of highly contagious diseases like FMD, wiping out our individual herd as well as the national herd.

Top 10 Livestock Biosecurity Tips

My top ten taken from my Farm First Biosecurity ™ program:

  1. Have a Bio-Security Plan posted, review it annually and stick to it.
    • Assess your risks (Animal movement, Disease risk, Facilities, Feed and bedding, Veterinarian, Human movement)
    • Manage the risks after identification
    • Communicate the mitigation factors (Signs, Boot wash, Employees, Visitors)
  2. Keep a Closed herd-limit/restrict non-natural additions
  3. Isolation pen for sick or purchased animals
  4. House common aged animals together-“All in-All out” Neonates are very susceptible to diseases and many neonatal diseases can be prevented by reducing exposure to older animals.
  5. Reduce stress of crowding by having adequate bunk space, shelter and limiting additions
  6. Proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for environment- footwear, coveralls, foot baths, gloves etc.
  7. Separate cleaning utensils for sick pen and healthy pens. Different forks for hay versus manure pile
  8. Limit visitors from:
    • Similar species operations- Dictate fresh change of footwear and clothing before visiting your barn and pens
    • international visitors from livestock operations- Foreign Animal Diseases
  9. Wildlife/Pets Biosecurity
  10. Have an Emergency Preparedness/Evacuation Plan

Selected websites for further review

Please visit with your herd veterinarian for more information relative to managing/minimizing risks specific to your herd.