Breeding soundness exams for bulls – know he’s ready

Bulls exhibiting low fertility levels can result in poor female pregnancy rates and significantly reduces profitability. Annual breeding soundness exams should be conducted on all breeding bulls to ensure reproductive fertility.

Fertility testing breeding bulls is a minor production cost and can help prevent severe reproductive failure. Turning infertile males into breeding pastures will frequently yield a high percentage of open cows. High feed costs along with other increasing production costs have created a situation that by keeping these open cows through an unproductive year is cost prohibitive. Rising values of pregnant and young females are driving replacement costs up. Also, because beef calf prices are at historic highs, the lost opportunity to sell calves due to cows not becoming pregnant can have significant financial impact on a beef cow/calf operation.

Breeding bulls can remain fertile with high quality semen for 10 plus years. However, bulls may exhibit low fertility performance at any age. Low fertility can be caused by a number of factors including frost damaged testicles, infection, poor nutrition, and genetic predisposition. Younger bulls may exhibit breeding problems due to these same reasons; in addition, they may not have reached full sexual maturity or may have small scrotal circumference.

Bulls can be tested for fertility utilizing a breeding soundness exam. During the exam they are inspected and observed for anatomical correctness and abnormalities such as penile warts, reproductive tract infection, scrotal circumference, and semen quality. Semen quality is determined by collecting a semen sample to determine sperm cell motility, concentration and morphology.

Conducting breeding soundness exams on breeding bulls is an important first step to ensure that the breeding season will be successful. For more information on the importance of having bulls fertility tested, contact Frank Wardynski, Ruminant Educator with Michigan State University Extension at

Did you find this article useful?