Veterinary Dilemma: Bull Testing Gone Wrong

Being what I call myself “an old seasoned village vet”, I have learned to anticipate almost anything while working with animals. You get kicked by cattle and horses, bitten or scratched by dogs, and in my case, get bitten by a spider and dislocating a shoulder. Sometimes we get to work odd hours, doing strenuous jobs and do what you will call “dirty work”. But I didn’t anticipate breaking my (very) new expensive electrical (electro-) ejaculator that cost me a fortune (at least for myself) while testing bulls for fertility.

Before we continue with the story, let us first give a bit of a background how bulls are tested for fertility. Bull fertility testing involves physical examination of a bull to rule out any abnormality in the physical appearance of the bull. It also involves the collection of semen to evaluate any abnormalities or substandard semen, because bulls exhibiting normal physical capabilities may still be incapable of reproducing because of poor quality semen.

Several techniques have been devised for semen collection; of which the most frequently used is with an eletro-ejaculator. The collected semen is evaluated for volume, colour, and with a microscope the concentration, motility (movement of life sperm) and morphology (any abnormalities in the sperm shape) are examined. Bulls for breeding should be purchased only if they produce at least 70% normal sperm. The third component of bull fertility testing is sheath washing/scraping whereby mucous is cultured from the prepuce and penis and tested at the laboratory for venereal diseases such as Trichomoniasis which are associated with abortions. Blood from the bull is also collected to be tested for diseases such as Brucellosis and Bovine Viral Diarrhea. Another component is the evaluation of mating desire/libido. While semen testing alone will indicate if a bull is producing semen of satisfactory quality at the time of the examination, it will not detect if the bull has the desire or physical ability to successfully breed cows.

So, the story goes like this…

Due to time constraint, we scheduled a bull fertility testing on a Sunday afternoon. You know, most of these new coming commercial farmers are, in actual fact, weekend farmers and can only schedule routine veterinary visits during weekends when they are available on the farm. Well, we got to the farm all ripe and ready to get 10 bulls tested, but the things that could go wrong that day went wrong.

Firstly, the bulls were fighting each other while we were preparing to test them. You can imagine Brahman bulls’ wildness in close quarters while the females were at a camp nearby. This made it difficult to control the bulls especially with the inadequate animal handling facilities at the farm. So, the farmer and his workers were forced to separate the bulls in different kraals whilst waiting for the testing.

Secondly, the generator that the farmer normally uses for generating electricity on his farm during emergencies refused to work. The alternative was to connect the electrical ejaculator and microscope to an inverter which is then connected to the car battery. After careful testing of all the needed equipment, we eventually got on with the business of testing the bulls.

But still, luck was not on our side. The first bull sneaked out outside the manga (crush pen or chute) and came running between the car and the manga and dragged the cables that were connected to the microscope and electrical ejaculator. Imagine the commotion of trying to disconnect the electrical cables in a rush as to prevent the equipment from being dragged on by the running bull. Eish…. Luckily, we managed to save the equipment on time and no damage was done. (Except, one of my assistants ended up with his face in the sand whilst he was grabbing the ejaculator for dear life. That was a real funny site to watch!)

Well, after a lot of reorganization of the whole set-up, we eventually got the situation under control. And despite the manga that was not working properly; we got the first bull tested with minor hassles. 

The second bull was the master of all bulls for the farmer, a big well-muscled red Brahman. It kept on kicking when I was trying to grab its testis to measure the scrotal circumference and also doing the sheath washing. The sheath washing is done by placing a long pipette into the sheath of the bull with a buffer solution and scraping and cleaning the sheath. Thus, you need to hold onto the penis while the pipette is in the sheath, and this a tricky procedure that requires some skills and also a quick hand because the bull can easily kick you while doing it. I almost got a nasty kick as well but luckily I lifted my hand in time and only my finger got a bruise.

Anyway, to make a long story short, we didn’t proceed beyond the second bull. While the electrical ejaculator was inserted into the rectum of the bull to give electrical current (almost the same concept of the prodder) that stimulates the bull to ejaculate, the bull jumped up high and in the process the ejaculator slipped out of the rectum and hit the top of the manga rails. That was it! The ejaculator got broken in half, it was caput! My new ejaculator was “Finish and Klaar”! Imagine this is one of that equipment that are hardy and made to withstand harsh field conditions or handling, but that master bull number 2 got it broken! I’m telling you that was not funny at all.

So, the vet was in a dilemma, without the ejaculator the bulls fertility testing could not be continued. And even if we managed to fix the ejaculator, from all the kicking and jumping of bull number 2, the neck clamp of the manga got loose and with one final jump, the hinges of the neck clamp broke as well. Thus, operation “bull testing” had to be abandoned.

Even though bull fertility testing is a relatively easy procedure that is widely done in Namibia especially on commercial farms, things can go wrong. Thus, my advice to the farmers would be to have a good management strategy that will ensure smoother bull fertility testing operation. This includes keeping cows far away from bulls during the fertility testing, separate bulls that might potentially fight each other and most importantly have well-functioning animal handling facilities especially the kraal, the manga and neck clamp.

So, let’s get those bulls tested....