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Expert offers tips to minimize injuries in bulls during the breeding season

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Breeding bulls are considered elite athletes, and to perform at their best, they must be in top physical condition.

Experts believe bulls represent the most significant investment in a cow/calf operation in actual dollars.

However, during the breeding season, bulls spend most of their time out on pasture and are vulnerable to numerous injuries and health risks. 

“Most injuries seen in bulls happen during breeding season and fall into two categories – reproductive injuries and musculoskeletal injuries, usually to the feet and legs,” states Jennifer Pearson, assistant professor in the Department of Production Animal Health at the University of Calgary.

Unfortunately, when this happens, it usually means the breeding season – and possibly even the career – for the injured bull is over. 

Reproductive injuries

“A common reproductive injury is a penile hematoma, often called a broken penis. This occurs when the connective tissue surrounding the penis is bent too much, so it breaks or tears and the leakage of blood creates swelling,” Pearson explains. 

These injuries are common in bulls breeding cows out on pasture, compared to bulls in a confined, controlled situation or bulls being collected for artificial insemination.

“Bulls can also develop what is called a penile or preputial laceration where the tissue covering the penis is injured due to a breeding injury. This can happen if the tissue gets caught between the bull and the cow’s hip bones or when traveling through shrubs,” she adds.

The prepuce only gets noticed when something goes wrong, but it can cause economic loss and negatively impact a producer’s breeding program.

Understanding the severity of an injury is critical to a bull’s health, as other issues can arise from these injuries, like scar tissue and adhesions.

Pearson notes both of these injuries result in soreness and swelling, but they usually heal and the bull will recover, depending on the severity.

Treatment for these injuries depends on the duration, severity and resulting damage to the prepuce. 

According to South Dakota State University Extension Veterinarian Dr. Russ Daly, superficial lacerations may be treated with 30 days of rest from breeding and flushing the sheath with an antiseptic solution if there is no swelling and subsequent prolapse of the prepuce.

However, injuries at this early stage are seldom noticed out on pasture and are detected once the prepuce has been prolapsed for a reasonable length of time and the tissue is dry, swollen, dirty and infected, Daly points out.

“Treating injuries at this stage requires softening the prolapsed tissue and reducing the swelling enough so it can be replaced back into the sheath,” he explains. “The prognosis of a bull with severe preputial injuries is very guarded for future breeding purposes.”

He adds, “Preputial injuries are yet another reason to keep a close eye on bulls on summer pasture. If there’s hope of saving a bull’s breeding capacity for another breeding season, it will depend on prompt detection of the injury and prompt treatment.”

Musculoskeletal injuries

Musculoskeletal injuries include broken legs, torn ligaments and various lameness issues, which also include foot and claw lesions, impairing the bull’s ability to travel and breed cows. 

A breeding season injury can be devastating to breeding efficiency, but if a bull receives an injury to the stifle, it can be career ending. 

Pearson notes, “This form of an injury usually occurs as a result of fighting but can happen during breeding due to cow movement or poor footing.” 

One challenge of bringing bulls together from different sources in a community pasture is they will spend a fair amount of time fighting to establish their social hierarchy.

To reduce injuries from fighting, bulls can be wintered together before the breeding season, allowing them to establish their social order prior to breeding.

It is also suggested to shorten the breeding season. Once breeding activity slows, bulls have the tendency to spar and increase the chance of injury. 

Pearson says, “Foot and claw injuries can sometimes be prevented by ensuring a bull’s feet are not too long and overgrown.” 

Trimming bulls’ feet before breeding season can be beneficial, especially if they have been confined or live on soft ground with no chance to wear their feet down naturally.

“Keeping feet at normal length can help prevent some of the issues associated with long toes or overgrown feet,” says Pearson. “If we are looking at trimming feet, we can find and deal with some of these issues before they become lame or prevent issues that might lead to lameness.”

Some bulls who suffer musculoskeletal injuries may become serviceable with pen rest and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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