Vets focusing on bull fertility for farm profitability

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Forty vets attended a bull fertility Masterclass in Dublin last week.

The event organised by XLVets Skillnet was delivered by Professor Al Barth; a world expert in bull fertility from Saskatchewan University in Canada.

The relevance of the event was underlined by the message that up to 15% of bulls traded never produce any progeny. Of those bulls that do reproduce, ICBF data indicates a significant sub-fertility issue that is costing farmers millions of euro each year.

The delegates studied the detailed science behind infertility and subfertility and participated in practical workshops on humane semen collection‎ methods and semen morphology. The key take home messages from the event include:

* Bull fertility examinations that do not include semen morphology exams will miss a large percentage of sub or infertile bulls.

* Stress, over conditioning and calf hood nutrition have a profound effect on bull fertility.

* Initial studies on machines that are currently used to assess semen quality will fail to identify up to 75% of infertile and sub-fertile bulls ‎. Prof Barth urged that further independent research is needed on such machines.

* Farmers should test their own bulls prior to breeding rather than depend on historic results from pre-sale screening. Prof Barth estimates that 50% of young over conditioned bulls will not pass properly conducted breeding soundness examinations.

* On farm bull management practices can contribute to increased pregnancy rates at 3, 6 and 9 weeks of the breeding season.

* Health herd programmes on both the vendors and purchasers farm will reduce the risk of periods of infertility.

* Frozen semen evaluation is important. Problems with semen quality can have a detrimental effect on the six week in-calf rate. While quality control in Irish AI companies is stringent, the increase in imported semen and home collection of bulls leave farmers open to increased risk.

Donal Lynch, a vet from Tullamore and one of the organisers of the event observed: “The positive engagement by vets in this masterclass is testament to the dedication of Irish vets to the pursuit of excellence in the veterinary services they provide to farmers.”

Another of the event organisers, Donal Murphy of Sliabh Luachra Veterinary from Rathmore Co Kerry, said: “While fertility issues in the female herd are being addressed through genetics, body condition score monitoring, herd health initiatives and management of the mating period; fertility issues on the male side must not be neglected.

“Male fertility must be addressed from bull management, serving capacity and genetics perspectives to fulfil current compact calving targets.”

The vets attending this event are determined to support farmers in doing just that.