Are bulls overweight this joining?

Vets receive increased inquiry for bull semen testing but fear many are overweight heading into joining


Bull fertility is one of the most important parts of a herd rebuild.


An increasing number of commercial breeders are seeing the value in semen testing their bulls this year with technology used in human IVF hospitals giving them accurate results in minutes.

But there are fears a large majority of bulls will enter the joining season overweight and vets are warning producers to consider management techniques to maximise pregnancy rates.

So often the blame for a fall in herd fertility lies with females but vets and semen collectors are noticing a renewed focus on bull soundness as producers chase a fast herd rebuild.

Holbrook Vet Centre partner Dr Shane Thomson said more people were testing their bulls and opting for multi-sire joinings given the high value of stock.

"The bulls are worth a bit and so are the offspring," he said.

"The cost of a failure is pretty expensive and they are starting to realise if you look at the cost of testing a bull on a per calf basis it is relatively cheap."

He noted that almost every bull he tested this season was overweight and increased the risk of bulls injurying themselves in the paddock or poor serving technique. Bulls should be at 2.5 to 3.5 condition score during joining but the change in season meant many producers had dropped the bull, he said.

"There is more pressure on bulls because joining periods are shorter, they are worth more and the offspring are worth more," he said.

"We understand the early born calves are worth more than the late born so there is a lot more pressure on bulls to do their job in a short window which means we need to help support that pressure by testing them better and managing them better.

"A modern bull is under way more pressure than he was 20 years ago. He has got a much higher workload in a shorter period of time."

Trevor Mason of TotalScan Livestock Services in Benalla, Victoria, also has a growing clientele in NSW.

"There is no doubt about it, there is more and more people starting to say maybe this is more important than what we thought it was, which it is," he said.

"Personally I think for the cost of it anyone that doesn't test their bulls are playing Russian roulette to a degree.

"It's not the be all and end all and no doubt like most tests they are only as good as the day they are done...but what it is a guide to knowing your bull is capable of producing decent semen.

"They can test a herd of bulls for the value of one calf to know they are right."

Six years ago Mr Mason imported an Israel-based machine that provided an accurate reading of 10 parameters of bull semen within a minute of collection.

Traditionally once bull semen had been collected it would either be assessed under a microscope on the day or sent away to a lab to be tested but Mr Mason had seen cases where a quick crush-side test pass was actually a fail on closer inspection with the imported machine.

Among those enlisting Mr Mason's services were Leppington Pastoral Company Billabong Station at West Wyalong who tested 37 bulls and found two of them were no longer working.

Buying bulls that last and do the distance was a focus for the company this bull selling season.

"Normally we do a vet check and physically check them all but this year with the prices and everything else I wanted to make sure that our bulls were all good so we did a proper semen test," Wayne Perich of Leppington said.

Mr Mason focuses on the motility, morphology, velocity and motility progressive readings from the machine along as physical assessments to help producers understand the sires fit for the job.

Bulls that failed a test could often be retested with a better result but often had underlying physical issues that he could also identify.

"We did another five bulls for a neighbour the other week and he had an older bull he was a bit doubtful about," Mr Mason said.

"That bull tested fine and he said that just saved him a hell of a lot of bull.

"He probably would have tipped that bull out and went and bought another bull when in actual fact he has got an extra season out of that bull.

"Some of our clients I've been doing now for five or six years and some of those bulls are still in the system."

He had received inquiry from sheep producers too and had success testing stallions.


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