Seasonal variation in bull semen quality demonstrates there are heat‑sensitive and heat‑tolerant bulls

Jacob Netherton, Benjamin Robinson, Rachel Ogle, Allan Gunn, Ana Villaverde, Kim Colyvas, Cedric Wise, Tylah Russo, Amiee Dowdell, Mark Baker

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Using semen data from 1271 ejaculates (79 different bulls, 11 different breeds) we have investigated the variability of semen quality in cattle living in sub-tropical conditions. Modelling shows definitive evidence of seasonal variation. Semen quality from the same bulls had a 90% “pass rate” for cryopreservation purposes in winter, dropping to less than 50% in summer. Notably, individual bulls could be classified as either “heat-tolerant” (produce good quality spermatozoa all year regardless of temperature) or “heat-sensitive” (only produce good quality sperm in summer). Nominal logistic regression demonstrated when temperatures reach 30.5 °C, 40% of heat-sensitive bulls fail a semen analysis 17 days later. At 34 °C, the proportion of bulls failing reached 63%. Ratifying this, the purposeful heating of bulls to 40 °C for 12 h showed that individual animals had different degrees of heat-sensitivity. Using historical temperature data, we then modelled how many days/decade bulls would be subject to heat-events. Beginning from 1939 to 1949, on average, the area in which bulls were kept recorded 19, 7 and 1 day over 38 °C, 39 °C and 40 °C respectively. This number steadily increases and of last decade (2010–2010), the numbers of days per decade over 38 °C, 39 °C and 40 °C jumped to a staggering 75, 39 and 15 respectively. These data show the urgent need to identify heattolerant bulls as future sires. Such variation likely explains why the veterinary bull breeding test often fails to accurately predict bull breeding potential.
Original languageEnglish
Article number15322
Number of pages11
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2022


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