Evaluation of Breeding Soundness

Chapter 7
Evaluation of Breeding Soundness: The Physical Examination

James Alexander

Alexander Veterinary Services, Bentonia, Mississippi, USA


When a bull breeding soundness examination (BBSE) is performed for the purpose of evaluating a bull’s potential to breed in a natural service situation, the physical component takes on paramount significance. In fact when a physical abnormality is observed or the bull does not meet the standards for scrotal circumference (SC), the examination need not proceed to evaluation of semen characteristics. Thus, goals of the physical examination portion of a BBSE are the identification of undesirable genetic traits, structural or physical impediments to breeding, and pathology of the reproductive tract. Even though it is common for inadequacies to exist in this area of the BBSE, it is often ignored or rushed through without attention to detail or in a consistent systematic manner. Therefore it is of utmost importance that the physical examination be done using a consistent protocol. Additionally, the SC, which is an indirect metric for testicle size and thus sperm production potential, must be measured and meet minimum standards.


The history can be addressed prior to or during the physical examination. The history can provide the examiner with insight into genetics, condition, management, vaccination, any disease testing programs, and history of disease in the herd. The breed or breed composition should be obtained to help establish what genetic abnormalities or which conformation traits may be common to that breed. The ration fed previously and at present should be established as well as the level of each ingredient in the rations and the poundage fed to each bull. The veterinarian needs to determine what body condition scores were attained at different stages of development. Management practices should be established with regard to large or small group facilities, parasite control, pasture or dry lot, through space, and water availability. These management practices can influence the level of foot problems and increased incidence of diseases such as vesiculitis. The herd vaccination program should be ascertained, if for no other reason than for buyer information. Information on disease control programs should be established for buyer information and the reason for those programs. The history of disease in the herd may explain the results of the BBSE examination and again be useful information to the herd owner and/or buyer.

Basic physical examination

For a bull to survive and function as a natural service sire (pasture or range environment), he must be able to walk, eat, and see. Thus a basic examination should begin with a history, examination at a distance, and an assessment of a bull’s conformation, gait and overall appearance.

Examination at a distance

If possible, the bulls should be observed from the fence of the holding pen while they are standing quietly. This is a good time to observe their conformation, and overall appearance. Bull identification numbers are collected of those that will need closer examination for any problems that may be seen. Move through the bulls slowly while noting any other problems. This is a good time to observe each bull’s gait, possible foot issues, sight deficiencies, and bilateral symmetry. The absence of bilateral symmetry is the examiner’s guide to areas of potential abnormalities.


Selection for conformation has been influenced by judges for show purposes and is not always the conformation most desirable for durability of the bull in a pasture or range environment. Because a bull is required to cover large areas, mount and lunge multiple times in a single day, feet and legs are often the trait that determines his ability to service cattle and his longevity as a sire. Hoof and hock abnormalities lead to lameness, which affects his ability to accomplish this purpose as well as lowering sperm quality. Screw claw, chronic laminitis, and interdigital fibromas are common. The incidence of screw claw appears to be increasing in beef breeds (Figure 7.1

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Aug 24, 2017 | Posted by in GENERAL | Comments Off on Evaluation of Breeding Soundness

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