Pregnancy Checking Cows Can Save Money

Lower body condition and poor forage quality lead to low pregnancy rates. Dr Les Anderson explains why pregnancy checking cows can be cost effective.
calendar icon 22 September 2009
clock icon 3 minute read

Dr Anderson, Beef Extension Specialist from the University of Kentucky expects low pregnancy rates this year. He says that by carrying out pregnancy tests, producers can cut feed costs, apply better utilisation of feed management and increase interest of potential buyers.

Mr Anderson has observed lower reproductive rates on numerous farms scattered across the entire state of Kentucky. Pregnancy rates in the University's cows have fallen about 10 per cent this year. Dr Anderson believes that the low pregnancy rates are a result of poor forage quality and low body condition. He says that the low nutrients (caused by drought) will have likely delayed many cows ability to recycle after calving even though they were subjected to protocols to induce estrus synchronization prior to either natural service or to artificial insemination (AI).

In reality, these cows probably did not start cycling until July when fertility is typically low and it is likely half the herd conceived on one day and only half of the remaining cows conceived to the bull.

Because of this, Mr Anderson is encouraging all producers to incorporate pregnancy checking into the annual management practice. Pregnancy status is the first criteria that should determine whether a cow is retained in the herd or culled, he says.

National Animal Health Monitoring System results show that fewer than 20 per cent of beef cow calf producers used pregnancy testing or palpation in their herd. Mr Anderson says that the benefits of this are:

  • Allows producers to identify "open"/ non pregnant cows. By comparing the roughly $5 per head cost of pregnancy testing with the $100-200 per head cost of feed, massive savings could be made.

  • Pregnancy diagnosis will also provide a producer an estimation of when cows will be calving based on the age of the fetus at the time of the examination. An average calving date will allow producers to better supplement cows during winter and help make efficient feeding decisions. Cows nutrient requirements are highest before and after calving, and at their lowest during the second period of pregnancy.

  • If the herd needs to be culled and pregnant cows need to be sold due to drought and lack of pasture, knowing the pregnancy status of cows will be appealing to potential buyers. Buyers will be looking to purchase cows that will calve closely in line with the cows already in their own herds.
Pregnancy diagnosis is a quick and simple procedure that requires an experienced veterinarian. Two practical methods for pregnancy diagnosis can be used in beef cattle: 1) rectal palpation and 2) transrectal ultrasonography.

Rectal palpation is most common and is an accurate form of pregnancy diagnosis that can be performed after day 45 of pregnancy. Many veterinarians are proficient at rectal palpation, and this procedure requires little time in the squeeze chute.

Transrectal ultrasonography, commonly referred to as ultrasound, can be used to detect pregnancy as early as 28 days with a high degree of accuracy. This method can be employed just as quickly as rectal palpation when done by a skilled technician and may provide additional information that cannot be determined by rectal palpation. Using transrectal ultrasonography, the technician is actually "looking" at the fetus and can determine the viability of the fetus and the incidence of twins. It is also possible to determine the sex of the fetus between days 60 and 90 of pregnancy.

Finally Dr Anderson advises producers to keep an eye on cull cow markets, often selling cows earlier in the season generates better prices. By breeding cows slightly earlier, pulling bulls out immediately and scheduling pregnancy checks, cull cows can be sold before the market plummets.


September 2009

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