West Lafayette, Indiana - Testing bulls for reproductive health is even more important now for beef cattle producers because feeder calves are expected to generate record prices this fall, a Purdue University veterinary scientist says.

"Beef producers need to do everything that they can to produce a calf from every cow," said W. Mark Hilton, clinical professor of beef production medicine. "If all of your bulls have passed their breeding soundness exam, you can turn them out with confidence."

A breeding soundness exam is done by a veterinarian and involves a complete assessment of the animal's reproductive health, including evaluation of the semen for sperm cell morphology. Bulls should be tested 30-60 days before breeding, time enough to find a replacement if necessary, Hilton said.

About 10 percent of all bulls tested prove to be infertile, he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cost of a breeding soundness exam is about $75 per bull. Weaned calves are expected to sell for $1,200 to $1,500 this fall depending on weight, Hilton said.

"There has never been a year that getting one extra calf will pay such dividends," he said.

The age of the bull is also important in devising a breeding strategy.

"Several years ago I started using a rule of thumb of one cow for every month of the age of the bull," Hilton said. "That means a 17-month-old bull in good reproductive health should be able to breed 17 cows in a 65-day breeding season."

Producers who need multiple bulls per pasture should make sure the animals are about the same age.

"If you put a 14-month-old bull and a 26-month-old bull out together, the young bull will likely get zero cows bred due to being dominated by the older bull," Hilton said.