Groundwork for Midland Bull Test: Preparing bulls for the sale
There are many people working each year to ensure a successful Midland Bull Test (MBT) for consignors and buyers.
“Midland takes an army,” says MBT clipper Tanner Jensen. “There’s a lot of work going into Midland behind the scenes people don’t see.”
Hair clipping preparations
Tanner Jensen and two others make up the clipping crew for Midland. Jensen says he’s been clipping bulls for MBT since 2016.
He mentions the clipping crew usually clips the first group of bulls, consisting of half of the Angus bulls and all of the fall born breeds – about 250 bulls total – around Valentine’s Day. They typically wrap up with the second group – the rest of the Angus bulls and spring born breeds – by the beginning of March.
“Usually, we try to do two pens per day,” he says. “We typically clip 75 bulls per day depending on how big the pen is, some days we get a few more, some days when there’re smaller pens we do less.”
Importance of a proper clipping
Jensen mentions the crew works to get through a lot of cattle quickly while still doing a good job.
“I will not sacrifice doing a good job to clip faster,” he says. “If it takes us another day or two longer, it takes us another day or two longer, there’re just little things I see which a lot of people don’t.”
He says his goal is to keep the bulls looking “smooth and square.”
“I look at each bull separately and think of how I can make him look a little better,” he adds. “We try to get each bull to look as good as they possibly can.”
MBT clipping technique
Jensen explains he and his crew don’t use a blower to fluff the hair before clipping it. Instead, they torch a good percentage of the hair off.
“I don’t think cattle come out quite as nice if you have to blow on them,” he says. “It always seems to work a lot better if we torch the hair and work on the hair in its natural state.”
Jensen says if the crew were to blow out bulls before clipping them – working the hair in the same direction every time – the hair wouldn’t get touched again with a blower before the sale.
“You can blow each one out rain, sun or shine, but they’ll look a little different out in the pen after you’re done and they dry off – the hair goes back to how it was,” he adds.
All bulls at MBT are ultrasounded for a complete comparison. Samantha England is a field and lab certified lab tech at UltraInsights. She has been ultrasounding MBT bulls for three years.
England says the ultrasound process is a quick, painless process for the bulls. She can typically ultrasound around 350 bulls per day.
“Someone runs the bulls in and makes sure they’re clean for me before they get into the chute,” England says. “I clip three spots on the bulls: ribeye area, rump fat and an area for measuring marbling.”
She then oils and ultrasounds the bulls, with the total process usually only taking about one minute per bull.
“We will measure ribeye area, fat thickness and marbling on every animal,” she says. “On most animals we will measure rump fat. Rump fats aren’t required by every association, so not every animal has to have them measured.”
England mentions there’s a lot more going into a top bull than just carcass, but carcass evaluations are still important for producers. She says ultrasound results can be used as a way to sort animals.
“I have several guys using marbling as a way to sort bulls which may have some sort of underlying issue from the rest of the herd,” she says. “Marbling is one of the first things to go if an animal is sick or not feeling well.”
“Producers are going to want a decent carcass bull,” she says. “The only way to really find this, without killing the bull, is with ultrasound.”
Breeding soundness exam
Dr. Lacey Fahrmeier and Dr. Jesse Olson of Stillwater Veterinary Clinic conducted breeding soundness exams (BSEs) on all bulls at MBT this year.
Fahrmeier mentions BSE incorporates many different factors.
“BSEs basically assess a bull’s ability to service a cow and fertilize an egg,” she says. “Routine assessment of bulls for breeding soundness includes examination for physical soundness (good feet and leg structure, body condition, scrotal circumference, penile extension), estimation of sperm production ability and assessment of semen quality.”
Fahrmeier notes BSE reflects an animal’s breeding soundness only on the day the animal is tested. The sperm assessed on the date of the test are resulting of spermatogenesis which began over 60 days before the actual day of examination.
“In addition to an outward assessment, bulls are palpated rectally to ensure internal structures and seminal vesicles are normal,” Fahrmeier says.
“The seminal vesicles are often a place where young bulls can get infections,” she notes. “This can show up as white blood cells in the semen sample which would be a reason to fail a bull and requires treatment with antibiotics.”
Fahrmeier explains by stimulating the bull with rectal palpation first, it typically requires less pulsation with the electro ejaculator to obtain a semen sample and get good penile extension.
“The tech will insert the electro ejaculator probe into the rectum, this is connected by a chord to a machine where I can control the application of stimulation for frequency, duration and magnitude of voltage used to stimulate the bull to ejaculate,” she says.
During this time, Fahrmeier will assess the bull for good penile extension, as well as a penis free of warts, a persistent frenulum and any other defects. She explains a persistent frenulum is a band-like piece of tissue attachment running from the tip of the penis to the prepuce.
“Failure of the frenulum to regress may prevent full penile extension and cause ventral deviation of the penis which may hinder the bull’s ability to serve the cow,” she says. “This is especially common in immature bulls and must be broken down manually and then rechecked to assure it has healed properly.”
In order to extract semen, Fahrmeier pulses the bull with the electro ejaculator at a low level and gradually raises the level, eventually collecting a good sample from the bull. She then brings the sample over to the microscope to analyze it.
“We can see each individual sperm up close with the microscope,” Fahrmeier says. “I assess the sperms’ motility to see what percent are moving progressively forward normally.”
She notes there needs to be a minimum of 30 percent alive and swimming in a forward direction.
“I also assess morphology of the semen and make sure they have all the proper structures,” Fahrmeier continues. “This means the head, midpiece and tail are normal. Commonly seen defects include coiled tails, bent tails and droplets on the proximal aspect of the tail. The bull has to have at last 70 percent normal sperm cells to pass.”
Fahrmeier also searches for signs of infection during this time.
“If the sample contains a large number of white blood cells, this is another reason the bull might fail,” she says. “This affects their ability to have sperm which can adequately fertilize an egg.”
If a bull doesn’t pass with at least 70 percent normal sperm and 30 percent normal progressive motility the first time, they need to be retested.
“Bulls have a pretty high fail rate if they’re 12 months old or less,” she notes. “The bulls often overcome maturity defects found early, but this is not always the case, so we can’t just assume the maturity defects having a negative impact on fertility will go away.”
“I prefer to wait at least three weeks to retest so I’m giving the bull a chance to resolve these maturity defects or fight off the infection if they were treated,” says Fahrmeier.
Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.