Time to check your bulls and rams

AG ADVICE - February 2021

Brett Littler - Senior Land Services Officer, Livestock

With autumn joining fast approaching for sheep and cattle, it is a timely reminder to check your rams and bulls.

Before putting your bulls/rams out, it is always a good idea to get them into the yards and give them a good go over, starting from their head and work your way through to their back feet.

Check their teeth and look for any obvious lumps or bumps in their legs and feet. Get them to walk and look at their locomotion and how they are tracking.

While you are checking your bulls/rams it is also a good idea to get them in and check the reproductive tract. This includes the scrotum, testicles and epididymides, and the prepuce, sheath and penis. The testicles and epididymides are checked for tone and consistency, abnormalities and swelling. These features indicate the health of the testicles and semen, and the ability of the semen to move through this part of the tract. This check will pick up a high proportion of fertility issues.

Scrotal size is related to the mass of sperm-producing tissue and the health of the sperm. It is also related to sexual maturity, and its measurement is a key indicator of the bull’s fertility.

The penis and sheath are checked for sores, cuts, abscesses, scar tissue, warts and adhesions. The penis can be checked by palpating it through the skin or by extending it through the sheath, and further checked if the bull/ram is observed serving a cow/ewe.

Injuries to the sheath and penis often occur during the joining season and may go unnoticed unless this examination is done.

For a more in-depth examination of bulls/rams, your veterinarian can palpate the internal sex organs, collect and examine semen for motility and send to the lab for morphological examination. These tests can pick up problems not evident on a general examination. Schemes like the Australian Cattle Veterinarians BullCheck offer a standardised bull examination.

If your bulls/rams are already out:

  • Check your rams/bulls at least twice each week. Get up close to them and watch them walk; check for swellings around the sheath and for lameness.
  • Have a spare bull(s)/ram(s) available to replace any that break down. Replace any suspect bull/ram immediately.
  • Single-sire joining works well but it has risks. Rotate rams/bulls in single-sire groups to make sure that any infertility is covered. The rams/bulls must be checked regularly and carefully, or they should be rotated every one or two cycles.

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