Examining bulls for reproductive soundness is important as breeding season approaches, says a Purdue Extension beef specialist.

Veterinarians specializing in reproduction typically perform the exams. They evaluate physical soundness, reproductive organs and semen quality and offer beef producers a chance to determine if bulls have any injuries or conditions that might prevent them from breeding cows in the spring.

"Virgin bulls are among the most important for producers to have tested because up to 10 percent of those animals could have reproductive issues," said Ron Lemenager.

"Young bulls seem to be more vulnerable to changes in the environment, nutrition and disease that can affect semen quality. A majority of our producers are using relatively young bulls, so it's important for them to have those animals evaluated."

During the exams, semen quality, volume and motility will be evaluated. The exam provider also will palpate reproductive organs and check for any problems such as swelling, adhesions, hair rings or warts.

Young bulls that may not have obtained puberty will be evaluated for reproductive maturity, as well.

Lemenager recommends that producers have their bulls evaluated 30-45 days before the start of breeding season since it takes about 60 days to produce viable semen. Any condition that increases body temperature can result in lower semen quality and/or temporary sterility.

"Normally we talk about evaluating bulls a month to 45 days before breeding so that if they fail the exam, there is time to re-evaluate them," he said.

"If they fail a second time, producers then have a chance to find a replacement and still get cows bred on time."

Lemenager also said that with the current status of the industry, breeding soundness exams are worth the cost.

"With the price of cattle and feeds right now, these exams are very cost-effective," he said. "We want to get cows bred and calving on time."

(For a look at where beef prices might go, see http://southeastfarmpress.com/livestock/cattle-prices-could-remain-strong-next-year and http://southeastfarmpress.com/livestock/reduced-texas-national-cattle-herd-supporting-prices).