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THE IMPORTANCE OF BULL FERTILITY IN THE SUCKLER HERD
When it comes to fertility within a herd, the main focus tends to be on the fertility and health status of the cow, but it is important not to ignore the bull.
Whilst cow status is vitally important to hit the targets for many fertility key performance indicators (KPIs) it has, however, been shown that between 20-40 per cent of bulls have reduced fertility and that, in the UK, 25 per cent of bulls fail a pre-breeding examination, according to AHDB figures.
Although bulls are rarely infertile there are many factors that can be involved in causing sub-fertility. This reduction in fertility can have a large impact reducing conception rates at each service, increasing the length of the calving block and increasing the number of barren cows at the end of your breeding period.
A standard target KPI for cows calving in the first three weeks of a 12 week calving block is more than 65 per cent and more than 90 per cent in the first nine weeks.
This means that a fully fertile bull that has been put in with a group of cows should have a minimum 65 per cent conception rate on first service. A subfertile bull would struggle to reach these KPIs which would be seen as an increase in barren cows or an extended calving period if the bull has been left in. Cows which conceive early in the bulling period calve early in the calving block, giving them longer to recover before mating again. This also allows calves more time to grow before weaning which has financial advantages.
Factors to consider
There are many things that can affect a bull’s fertility and ability to achieve high conception rates. These include:
• Physical fitness and body condition score (BCS)
• Disease and health status
• Good quality semen production
• Being able to serve cows and deposit semen in the vagina.
Many of these things can be tested in a bull breeding soundness examination or controlled with good management.
Breeding soundness examinations
Ideally a bull breeding soundness investigation should take place 10 weeks
before the start of the breeding season or pre-purchase. Production of sperm takes 60 days so pre planning is very
This also means that a soundness examination is only a snap shot in time and
although an excellent guide, farmers must ensure all aspects of bull health are managed to secure a good fertility is maintained throughout the bull’s working life. A bull breeding soundness examination includes:
• Physical examination of the bull including: BCS, teeth, eyes, heart, lungs, legs and feet
• Examination of the penis identifying any abnormalities or deformities
• Examination of testicles looking at:
– abnormalities or deformities
• Rectal examination of accessory secretory glands
• Semen collection using an electro-
ejaculator (most commonly used) and assessment of volume and density.
• Assessment under the microscope of:
– sperm motility
– sperm morphology
• Libido and serving assessment: watching the bull when working will give an assessment of how keen he is and his ability to serve cows.
Preparing a bull for work
In addition to a breeding soundness examination, there are many things that can be done to prepare a bull for work and while at work. These include:
• Consider buying a bull from a herd accredited free of disease. This is one of the most common ways of bringing disease into a herd.
• Quarantine a new bull for four weeks. During this period disease testing, vaccinations and treatments for internal and external parasites should be undertaken.
Food ration acclimatisation is also important to maintain BCS and good rumen health.
• Good BCS of 3 and fit for work
• Lameness examination and foot trimming well in advance as lameness can severely impact semen quality along will the bull’s ability to work.
• Monitor the bull through the breeding season:
– to ensure it is serving the cows
– to check for any lameness as this can cause a reduction in fertility
• For any ill health
• Pregnancy scan cows and heifers early to identify any subfertile bulls as even bulls that pass a breeding soundness examination can become subfertile due to illness.
To book a breeding soundness examination, or for more information, please speak to your vet or usual surgery.
Planning your Cattle Parasite Control at turnout
attle turnout is just around the corner and we need to get prepared. Do you know the level of worm contamination on your pasture?
Throughout the grazing season we want to see good growth rates, but Gut worms and Lungworm are just a couple of challenges posing a threat to this.
The biggest economic cost of parasitic gastroenteritis in growing cattle is the production cost of reduced growth. It is essential, therefore, to plan your parasite control with your vet or animal health advisor (SQP).
Unfortunately, there is not a one size fits all. Each farm will face its own challenges and it is essential to develop timed, planned treatments to prevent effects on production.
Prevention strategies for Parasitic
Gastroenteritism(PGE) in cattle include:
Clean grazing: use of low-risk pasture, frequent rotation, low stocking, long grass, follow-on grazing
Mixed grazing: follow on or co-grazing with sheep, goats, or horses
Zero grazing: housed cattle have no risk of PGE except for type 2 ostertagiosis in winter/spring after grazing season.
Parasitic Gastroenteritis Treatment
We can aim to prevent production losses,
avoid clinical disease and the delay development of resistance through strategic and targeted treatment.
Strategic treatments prevent pasture contamination and production losses:
• for 1st year’s grazers (sometimes 2nd) when low risk pasture is not available
• prevent egg build up on set stocked pasture in early season
• follow by moving to low-risk pasture from July onwards
Use targeted (therapeutic) treatment when FWEC counts are high,or growth rates affected. This is usually from mid-summer onwards.
Resistant worms are a problem. There is
resistance present in the UK, particularly for ML’s (macrocyclic lactones) against Cooperia (these worms mainly affect 1st year grazers).
It is vital to treat with the correct product at the right time for the parasite you need to control. Monitoring growth rates is an early indicator of PGE and impact on growth!
Blanket treatment is rarely necessary. Make good use of Faecal Worm Egg Counts for
Autumn born calves at spring turnout, spring dairy calves (not suckled), second year grazers and dairy heifers (1st year lactation).
Be vigilant for lungworm later in the grazing season!
There are many factors to consider when planning parasite control such as:
• level of pasture contamination
• weather conditions
• types of treatments used before
• immunity influenced by health, nutrition, and genetics.
Talk to your Vet or SQP about the challenges your animals are facing on your farm.
BVD stamp it out completion meetings
Engagement across Torch farms with the national BVD Stamp it Out project has been fantastic.
We have enrolled 198 farms across the practice with 190 of these having now completed their initial herd screens. We have confirmed active infection in 61 herds and found 68 PI animals so far.
We have now come to the end of our funding allocation for the scheme. Any outstanding herd screens or visits will be completed in the next 6-8 weeks.
As part of the scheme all enrolled farms must attend a final ‘completion meeting’ which we will be holding online via Zoom. The meetings will provide a round up of the findings and discussion on best practices to protect your herd going forwards and keep BVD out.
We have planned the following sessions and hope that all our enrolled farms can make one of these dates.
Wednesday 14th April – 13:00
Monday 26th April – 12:00
Monday 10th May – 19:00
Tuesday 25th May – 11:00
This is a step towards national BVD eradication, so it is important to maintain herd surveillance and management plans going forward.
To book onto a session please contact your usual branch. We will need an up-to-date email address so that we can send you the joining instructions for the meeting.
Remember Red Tractor Farm Assurance now requires an updated BVD risk assessment and surveillance plan annually. So, if you missed out on this funding opportunity but would like to talk about BVD on your farm – please speak to one of our vets today.
A sight for sore eyes
n the last few years, we have been seeing quite a few flocks experience unusual outbreaks of eye infections. These haven’t always had a clear explanation for the magnitude of the problem. The infections have been either exceptionally widespread, or poorly responsive to antibiotics, or occasionally both.
Factors that can predispose to eye infection epidemics in the flock include:
• feeding big bale silage /allowing spoiled
silage to remain in the feeder (listeria)
• concentrate feeding (puts heads together)
• yarding, esp if then drenched (handling heads)
• dry, dusty conditions
• long grass, whipping across faces
• windy / driving snow conditions
• an abundance of nuisance flies
Just as with footrot, early treatment is also a means of prevention. The sooner we can get the eye healing and dry, the fewer bugs there are to spread. Delaying treatment will result in more sheep being affected overall. It can also be useful to isolate affected sheep wherever possible. If sheep are unable to see, housing them can help prevent injury or death from misadventure. Licensed treatment options for eye infections in sheep are limited to:
• Opticlox and Orbenin eye ointments:
They provide lubrication to the surface of the eye
We use only a small amount of antibiotic on the affected area, in line with the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture guidelines
Not all sheep eye infections respond satisfactorily to penicillin based treatments such as these.
Somewhat fiddly to administer, and we risk spreading infection on the tube nozzle.
• Long acting antibiotic injections (Alamycin LA, Zactran, Draxxin) into muscle or under skin:
We do get a satisfactory response to treatment most of the time.
Quick and easy to administer
We don’t always get the very high concentration of antibiotic required in the eye.
We end up using more antibiotic and dosing the whole sheep.
It is worth having a discussion with your vet about what approaches may work best for your flock. We may be able to:
• advise on management measures to reduce the spread
• train you on injections under the eyelid. This reduces the amount of antibiotic used whilst delivering a high concentration to the required area. We can also add in a small dose of anti-inflammatory to the injection to speed healing and reduce pain.
•discuss alternative medications if the licensed products aren’t producing a satisfactory response.
You can discuss whether any of these options might be appropriate for your flock with your vet at your annual review. If fly season will be upon us before then, please call your usual branch and ask.
…is replacing Ubroseal® and will be in stock in our practices and ready to purchase from early April. Please speak to your vet or your local practice if you have any questions.
New opportunities at Torch
Exciting opportunities have arisen for
enthusiastic individuals to train as
Approved Tuberculin Testers.
Are you organised and able to work independently? Do you have hands-on farm managment experience, including at least 12 months’ cattle handling? Find out more about these roles on the job vacancies page of our website, or email Heatherwraith@torchvets.com for a job description and application form