As most people in the agriculture industry know, farming successfully is all about management.
Good management practices including utilizing tools and resources for making your operation more efficient – one such tool for your beef cattle herd is pregnancy checks.
Pregnancy checks can help producers determine which cows are carrying calves and which are open, and can help the farmer or rancher determine which cows to cull.
“Pregnancy checks are absolutely essential for cow/calf operators because a dry cow is time lost and money wasted,” said Scott Bruce, foreman of the Rafter Double B Ranch in Springfield, Mo.
Pregnancy checks can also help the producer detect health problems within the herd.
Another reason to preg check is to monitor the herd’s health and reproductive status. Finding more open cows than usual can signal a disease problem such as infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) or sexually transmitted diseases that cause cows to abort.
Nutritional deficiencies in a herd can also show up as open cows, especially in 2-year-olds that should have bred back for their second calves.
Some producers also use pregnancy testing to determine when cows will calve, facilitating sorting them into early- and late-calving groups.
There is more than one way to pregnancy check cows, but by far the most common and cost effective is rectal palpitation.
Roughly eight to 10 weeks after pulling the bull, or using AI, a veterinarian will feel for a pulse and the calf’s head, as well as determine the shape of the cow’s uterus.
Some producers opt to use ultrasound technology to determine whether or not cows are carrying; this option is highly effective (sometimes results can be detected as early as 13 days after breeding) but costly, making it a less popular choice for the average producer. Yet another option for pregnancy checking is a BioPRYN (Pregnant Ruminant Yes/No) blood test, developed by University of Idaho DVM Garth Sasser.
According to the BioPRYN website, “this test offers a safe, accurate, and easy alternative for confirming pregnancy in beef cattle. BioPRYN measures the presence of Pregnancy-Specific Protein B (PSPB), a protein only produced by the placenta of a growing fetus, in the blood circulation of the animal.”
Producers can take the blood samples themselves and send samples off to one of 24 labs worldwide. Results can be delivered to the producer by phone, e-mail or fax. Another benefit of using a blood test such as BioPRYN is that there is no risk of spreading any diseases rectally, which does pose a risk when pregnancy checking with rectal palpitation.
According to information from Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist, producers should “resist the temptation” to retain open heifers and “roll them over” to the next breeding cycle.
“These are the very heifers that you want to identify early and remove from the herd. It just makes good economic business sense to identify and cull non-pregnant replacement heifers as soon as possible,” he stated.
There are a number of good options for producers to manage their breeding program with pregnancy checks.
It is well worth the effort, time and money to invest in this valuable tool.


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