Breeding Soundness Evaluation

Cattle farmers know how important herd health is to remain profitable. All year round they pay attention to nutrition, disease and parasite control; but also to genetics and optimizing their operation to get the most pounds to market each year. One component of that in April, May, and June is a breeding soundness exam on the bull. Each bull is responsible for breeding up to 45 cows, so his performance must be good to avoid failure. Imagine a corn farmer forgetting to plant seeds in the spring- the result is no crop. The same result occurs when an infertile bull is turned out to pasture with a herd of cows.

A breeding soundness evaluation is performed in spring on each bull in the herd. Age, weight, conformation and leg/feet status is a start. Old or fat bulls run the risk of having weak suspensory ligaments in their heels, preventing them from mounting. Toes can overgrow or crack, causing pain to walk or mount. Arthritis is a career ending problem. Testicle size and firmness tell us if the “factory” is working to make sperm. Clipping long hair from the prepuce so cockleburs cannot build up is necessary. Palpating the internal organs will detect swellings from tumors or infection. Then comes semen collecting—either done manually by an experienced veterinarian-(preferred)- or with an electro-ejaculator, which stimulates the bull to extend his penis and give a semen sample in a cup. 

This sample is looked at closely under a microscope, first under low power to look for swarming or ocean waves—a very good sign.  High power is used to evaluate live/dead percentage and morphology, as well as concentration and motility.

Sperm can have many types of defects on head or tail (see picture), and does affect success of swimming and penetrating an egg. All defective sperm are not viable, and are counted. A 300 point score is derived after evaluating all areas of the physical appearance and sample—with a final rating of potential breeder pass/fail status. This certificate can be transferred from buyer to seller when necessary—a warranty of sorts.

Breeding soundness exams are performed also on swine, sheep, goats, and many other species to determine fertility of the sire.

During breeding season, problems can arise. The bull can be hurt from mounting or by a jealous cow in the herd. This can be temporary—2 to 3 week rest, or a career ender if the os penis is broken. Trichmoniasis is one transmittable disease from a positive cow to a bull, who then becomes a carrier to all other cows that he mates with. It causes infection, abortion, and delayed pregnancies, and is a reportable and quarantinable disease in Iowa. It is prudent to buy a virgin or negative bull to add to a clean herd. Positive animals in that herd must not be sold as breeding stock—only to terminal markets. Iowa places it as a high priority disease to eradicate.

In this area, bulls are commonly turned out with cows in May/June to deliver calves in March after a 9 month gestation.

Genetics have improved vastly over the decades with AI techniques, and high indexing or high EPD bulls are highly sought after and can be valued into the hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Producers have a lot of management decisions to juggle to maintain a healthy happy and profitable herd.

What is a Comp or a Profile?

These terms can be confusing so hoping to change that for my readers. These terms will be used in human medicine as well.  Both comp and profile are shorter versions of comprehensive metabolic panels that offer an inside look at your body’s chemical balance and metabolism. The values are screening numbers and can be compared from year to year to monitor disease processes. These tests are extremely important prior to elective procedures to assess anesthetic risk. Profiles are used prior to starting long term medications and at times of illness. There are different comp panels that include various lab tests. Our standard panel has 14 different markers and we can add 3 additional tests if warranted. I want to list each of these and give a description of how they are used so you can learn what these mean if your furry friend ever needs a comp or profile.

TPTotal Proteinsum of all proteins in the blood – main two types are albumin and globulins
ALBalbuminmost common protein and keeps fluids from leaking out of the blood and can carry other substances throughout the body
GLOBglobulinthese proteins are formed by the immune system and liver
GLOB + ALB = TPtherefore we can do A/G ratios that can give insight to other health concerns
ALPAlkaline Phosphatasefound in bone and liver so if elevated this is not a diagnosis — other tests will need to be performed — medications can elevate this enzyme also
ALTAlanine Transaminaseenzyme exclusively in the liver cells — when elevated we know we need to focus on the liver.
TBilTotal Bilirubinmeasure of bilibruin in your blood — animals can have yellow coloring of skin, and the whites of the eyes — urine will look dark like coffee grounds — jaundice if elevated and above normal — concern for liver if changes are noted
AMYAmylasethis enzyme is made in the pancreas – with disease or injury to pancreas we see increases of this enzyme in the blood
BUNBlood Urea Nitrogena measurement of urea in your blood — important information about kidney function — if low can be indicative of lack of protein in your diet or liver concerns
CREcreatininehigh levels correlate with lack of normal kidney function — kidney’s filter CRE from your blood and excretes in urine — if kidneys are not working CRE will increase in blood
GLUGlucoseextremely high levels can indicate diabetes — can be mildly elevated if an animal is stressed — low levels can lead to comas and disorientation — in puppies and kittens if their glucose is low — people often assume they are dead because they are unresponsive
Cacalciumdiet can impact calcium levels — high levels can also be driven by cancer and kidney disease — low calcium levels can be seen with low albumin levels caused by nutrition — liver or kidney disease, infections, or other long term illnesses
Phosphosphoruslow levels are often caused by malnutrition over long periods of time — this may be the diet or the lack of sufficient food intake — elevated levels can appear with kidney disease in cats and dogs — the kidneys regulate the phosphorus levels
Na+sodiumelectrolytes such as Na+ are necessary for heart and brain function, fluid balance, to deliver oxygen — it regulates blood pressure, blood volume, and transmission of nerve impulses — changes in Na+ also impact Cl- (chloride levels) another electrolyte
K+potassiumK+ is an electrolyte that is needed to control brain and heart activity along with nerve impulses — it is present in the cells and blood of a pet’s body — low K+ levels are often seen in advanced kidney disease — high K+ levels are seen in cases of urinary tract rupture, adrenal gland disorder, heart arrythmias, trauma, and many other conditions

Add on tests we can consider if needed are as follows:

Cholcholesterolthere are breeds of dogs that may have a genetic disposition to high cholesterol levels (schnauzers, Shetland sheepdog, collies) — high chol could indicate diabetes cushings, or low thyroid levels — low levels can indicate loss through the digestive tract with intestinal diseases or cancer
T-4thyroidelevated levels in pets often indicates cancer of the thyroid gland — it is most common in older cats and rare in dogs — low thyroid levels are rare in cats and more common in dogs — dogs treated for low thyroid conditions usually owners see an increase in their energy level, improved skin and hair, and weight loss
SDMAsymmetric dimethylargininethis test detects kidney disease at an early stage then the creatine level can

These tests can be run daily. Results are available the same day. This allows us to start therapy and treatment as quickly as possible. If you ever have concerns about your pet, please do not hesitate to contact us. The sooner a diagnosis is made the better the outcome for our pets.

What’s a CBC?

Many times our patients are needing us to check blood work. The CBC is an important diagnostic test used to evaluate the blood more closely. I wanted to talk this month about a machine that allows us to run CBC laboratory tests right in the clinic and what those values mean. This photo shows the machine we use to run a Complete Blood Count (CBC). This is a standard test used prior to surgical procedures, during wellness checks, and when we have concerns for illness. The machine takes a sample of blood and sorts out the cells into three different components. We have the White Blood Cell (WBC) count, the Red Blood Cell (RBC), and the Platelet (PLT) Count. All three share different information about components of the blood. 

WBC are made up of 5 different cellular structures. Each of these cell types when counted by this machine make up the WBC. The neutrophils (51-72%) usually are the largest percentage of WBC cells, followed by the lymphocytes (8-35%), monocytes (1-9%), eosinophils 0-9%), and basophils (0-2%). When these numbers are elevated it will raise the WBC count. We then look for the cell causing the elevation. If the neutrophils are up we know that there is an active infection present somewhere in the body. If the eosinophils are elevated we look for evidence of inflammation caused by allergies or parasites. Sometimes these levels can be lower than normal and we would look for viral infections or concerns with the bone marrow itself.  Lymphocytes help develop antibodies to protect against future attacks by the same organism.

RBC are made up of different components that all help our body carry oxygen throughout the body. High RBC counts can most commonly indicate dehydration. Anemia is when our RBC is low. We can have low counts related to blood loss from active bleeding, destruction of red blood cells from diseases, bone marrow or other diseases that prevent production of red blood cells.  Hemoglobin (HGB) binds and releases the oxygen to carry it to all our cells. The HGB will be directly affected by the red blood cell count at times of dehydration or anemia.  Hematocrit (HCT) and Pack Cell Volume (PCV) mean the same thing. This is the percentage of red blood cells circulating in the blood. If we spin the blood the red blood cells will settle to the bottom and the serum will be the liquid at the top. This percentage can give us information to help figure out what disease process may be causing an increase or a decrease in the RBC.  MCV, MCH, and MCHC are also values used within the RBC. They each play a part in the diagnosis of anemia or iron levels within the body.

Platelets (PLT) are responsible for helping to clot our blood. When we get a cut or a scratch the platelets become sticky and gather in large numbers to seal the leak in our blood vessel. This is extremely important to know prior to a surgical procedure. If a pet has low platelets that could affect the amount of bleeding at the time of surgery. 

There are conditions that have an effect on each of these values and even some that can cause  changes in all three. We take into consideration this CBC each and every time we do surgeries or are faced with health concerns of our patients. We ask if you are wanting to do a pre- surgical blood screen prior to anesthesia procedures or if your pet has presented with an illness that needs laboratory work to help diagnose what is ailing them. We also require doing this test annually if your pet is on long term medications. The CBC is one of those tests that we run right in our lab and can have results quickly. 

Next time you bring your pet into the clinic you will know why the CBC is an important piece of information that can help us get your furry friends back home quickly and safely. Happy Spring and hope the April showers are bringing in your May flowers!

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