Breeding Soundness Exam

Cattle producers should seriously consider getting a breeding soundness exam (BSE). This examination is conducted on bulls prior to the breeding season to assess their reliability and capability as breeding animals. We sometimes try to save money by not spending it, but conducting a BSE is a prime example of how to save money in the long run by spending a little up front.

The test is conducted on an annual basis at least 60-75 days before turn-out by a licensed veterinarian. Conducting the test during this period will allow time to replace any "unsound" animals and to retest any questionable animals. 

The test doesn't take long to conduct and basically involves three evaluations: 1) a structural soundness assessment; 2) a reproductive system evaluation; and 3) a semen quality appraisal. During the structural soundness assessment, the veterinarian examines the overall condition of the animal including the flesh, feet, legs, eyes and teeth. Once the bull passes this initial inspection, the veterinarian will assess the scrotum, testicles and penis, while also conducting a rectal palpation to determine any internal abnormalities. They may also measure overall scrotal circumference to determine if minimum requirements are met and to determine if any changes have occurred since the previous year (if these records are available). Scrotal circumference is important due to its positive correlation with semen production and age of puberty in female offspring if heifers will be retained. The absolute minimum is 30 centimeters for yearling bulls, while anything greater than 34 centimeters would be considered acceptable for mature bulls. The third and final phase consists of semen collection, primarily via electro-ejaculation, and an evaluation of primary characteristics such as semen motility (i.e., activity and progressiveness), morphology (i.e., percent normal sperm cells).

Following the tests, the veterinarian will usually classify the individual bull in one of three categories: 1) satisfactory; 2) unsatisfactory; or 3) suspect or deferred. The veterinarian may recommend culling or re-testing an individual bull. Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for younger bulls to fail their initial test, creating the need to retest later. If a mature bull fails, however, they will rarely pass a second test and thus, unless the veterinarian recommends retesting, should be culled.