Producers should make preg checks part of their management plan
Open females are not profitable animals, so adding pregnancy checks is a simple and inexpensive way to keep the bottom line in check.
However, only 20 percent of U.S. beef operations use any form of pregnancy detection. The use of pregnancy diagnosis ranges from 11 percent for small operations (1-49 head) to 72 percent for operations with 200 or more cows, according to the USDA-National Animal Health Monitoring System. Opting to keep non-productive cows or cows that fail to produce a calf, decreases operation profitability due to the high costs of maintaining a non-productive cow.
To ensure producers are keeping only productive cows, they should make pregnancy checks part of their management plan.
Pregnancy checking is also a tool that can be used to optimize heifer management, such as determining the success of a breeding program, be it natural cover of AI. Heifers can then be kept or culled, depending upon pregnancy status.
Preg checking can also allow producers to group animals by pregnancy stage for calving management.
When to check
Pregnancy testing can be most profitable when used at two different times during the year, according to a study by the University of Idaho.
The first would be at a minimum of 30 days (dependent upon method used) after the breeding season ends. The second would be when calves are weaned and before gestational feeding programs begin.
Testing at this time would ensure only cows that are carrying a calf would be fed until calving, allowing the producer to determine if the female should be culled.
If pregnancy rates are low, preg checking allows the producer to examine what changes might need to be made in the breeding program, such as bull selection, nutrition or health protocalls.
There are different techniques for preg checking cows – including the commonlay utalized rectal palpitation – ultrasound and blood tests.
Blood tests can determine pregnancy, but Dr. Heidi Ward, assistant professor and Veterinarian with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, cautioned that a blood test can not determine how far along the animal is.
She said a blood test can confirm conception, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the animal is pregnant, especially for first-calf heifers that are at a higher risk of early pregnancy loss.
During the palpation process, pregnancy is routinely detected in cows by inserting the hand into the rectum and palpating through the rectal and uterine walls for a fetus, which can be detected during the latter first and second trimester of gestation.
Ultrasound is more accurate and can detect pregnancy as early as 13 days after breeding. Rectal palpation by a skilled veterinarian can detect pregnancy 35 to 45 days after breeding. Using ultrasound in the appropriate window early in the pregnancy also provided the ability to sex the calf with a high degree of certainty.
Experts also encourage producers to have an idea of an exposure or bred date in order when determining when to preg check females.
Is it worth the cost?
Smaller producers might worry if pregnancy checking is a cost-effective practice. Information from the University of Missouri Extension states that for smaller producers, the cost of preg checks is perhaps more important than for larger operations.
Estimates put the feeding costs of carrying a beef cow at more than $300 per year – whether she raises a calf or not – so spending a few dollars to have them preg checks is a minimal expense that can save money.
Producers should consult their veterinarian to schedule their herd’s preg check appointment, and to make sure their herd is up to date on vaccinations to present disease related abortion risks.