Pelvic measurements of first-calf heifers reduces calving issues and protects a producer’s investment

Herd health is a constant priority for cattlemen, and calving difficulties are often at the center of herd health concerns. For some producers, making decisions to purchase or retain replacement heifers can be a daunting task.

Utilizing pelvic measurements on potential first-calf heifers is one way to aid in managing risks. When risks are managed, there is less cost for the producer, according to Charlie Robinson, a veterinarian at Wooderson Veterinary Clinic in Bolivar, Mo.

According to a fact sheet by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, a tool called the Rice pelvimeter can be used to measure the pelvic area of heifers, and therefore predict calving ease, before they are bred.

Often there is a misinterpretation that the larger the heifer, the higher the likelihood for an unassisted birth. But that’s not always the case. Regardless of frame size, the area of the pelvis is the best indicator.

“We have a 150 centimeter minimum to pass,” Robinson said. “It’s a pass or fail test, and it’s a you-meet-a-minimum sort of test.”

Heifers with unusually small pelvises, or those that are abnormally shaped, often experience more frequent calving issues and should be culled. However, heifers with abnormally large pelvic measurements can also be more susceptible to calving difficulty than average-sized heifers.

Pelvic measurement is one of the most well-accepted tests that can be performed by producers, Robinson said. The information gained by this testing is vital to ensure safety of the cow and calf and helps eliminate risk.

“Pelvic measurements further reduce problems associated with calving ease,” Robinson said.

A second reason pelvic measurements benefit the producer is that they are a long-term prevention of cost. For example, if the replacement heifer is not measured and has an abnormally shaped pelvis, the producer could potentially be calling their local vet with complications during calving. This results in a farm visit by the vet, which is never cheap, and the potential added expense of antibiotics.

“We are always looking for ways to lessen the cost input on the farmer,” Robinson said. “If we have to deliver the calf, that’s a significant cost to the farmer.”

Steven Rogers, a Red Angus cattle producer in Strafford, Mo.,, said he utilizes pelvic measurements before their farm’s production sale on not only purebred, but commercial heifers too because the information gained from pelvic measurements “helps buyers buy with confidence.” At the end of the day, “it comes down to economics,” he said.

“The dollars and cents of this business dictate that a small investment like this saves you money in the future,” Rogers said.

When a pelvic measurement is taken by a veterinarian, in many cases, the vet will also include a reproductive tract score (RTS). RTS is another quick way to gain even more knowledge on the heifer. This piece of information ensures cattleman are gaining insightful knowledge about their herd management, while potentially saving money.

Scores from the RTS are ranked 1 (immature) through 5 (cycling), said Robinson. This is another way to assess the heifer prior to breeding. Obtaining this information is another way to “reduce input cost of less desirable heifers that fail either of these tests,” he said.


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