Maximizing efficiency within farming systems is always vital. Suckler herds are no exception: fertility management is one of the biggest drivers of sustainability. Improving efficiency in suckler fertility involves, at its very backbone, two key objectives: maintaining a strict 365-day calving interval and striving for conception rates of 60%.
The bull - paramount in the planning, management and success of fertility on farm - is often overlooked. Studies show more than a fifth of UK bulls are subfertile. Whilst completely infertile bulls are rare, these subfertile bulls can be catastrophic to the coming calving period.
Bulls should be able to impregnate 70% of cows in the first three weeks of breeding, as we are aiming for 65% of cows to calve within these first three weeks of the calving period. By nine weeks 93% of cows should be pregnant. A subfertile bull would take much longer to achieve such figures, resulting in a protracted calving period and cows left open. It costs between £450 and £800 to house and feed a beef cow from breeding to calving, so it is a huge, and bitterly disappointing drain on resources to find barren cows due to a poorly performing bull. By comparison a bull test costs under £100!
All working bulls should undergo a Bull Breeding Suitability Exam (BBSE) every year by a vet Å not just at buying in or in young, unproven bulls. Bulls should be restrained in a crush in order to carry out this examination.
At Penbode Farm Vets Jonathan Chapman, Andy Stokes, Oli Charlton and Matt Evans are all qualified to carry out BBSEs.
What happens in the test
- Bulls are thoroughly examined for any issues which may hinder their ability to serve. eg foot problems, teeth malformations - which would drop feed intake - or problems affecting eyesight. If the BBSE is carried out six to eight weeks before breeding, it allows time for any issues, such as lameness, to be treated and corrected.
- The examination then looks at the reproductive system Å aiming for a scrotal circumference of at least 34cm in any bull over two years old. This is essential if they are to have the serving capacity required to get lots of cows in calf. Scrotal circumference is also directly linked to the fertility of his progeny: his daughters will be more likely to reach puberty earlier if this standard is met.
- A semen sample is examined to analyse sperm morphology and motility.
- Finally, the bull is watched during a service to ensure he is up to the job!
- Mature bulls can cover up to 50 cows each year, so it really does pay to ensure he can perform to his potential every season.
Knowledge is power, and ensuring the bull has a full
MOT every year gives you the opportunity to counteract any brewing issues, long before you see cows returning.