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The value of pregnancy testing

published: August 10th 2018
by: Joe C. Paschal
source: ICA of Texas
The last National Ani-mal Health Monitoring Survey conducted by USDA reported that only about 15% of U.S. beef cattle producers regularly pregnancy test their cows after the breeding season ends. Pregnancy testing is relatively inexpensive, identifies open or unbred cows, can increase the percent of weaned calves and increases profitability by removing unproductive cows. Depending on what statistic you look at, only about 80-83% of the cows in the U.S. (and likely Texas) will have a calf each year. While we may never reach a 100% calf crop, we should and can do better than that!
The oldest and most often used method of pregnancy diagnosis is rectal palpation which can be conducted by an experienced veterinarian or a skilled palpator. Detection can be as early as 45 days after breeding season ends. Palpation can also determine if the calf is alive or dead, or if the cow has twins, or sometimes why she isn’t bred if the cow is open. Having your veterinarian palpate gives you an extra pair of hands and eyes for other things as well. Often, we overlook obvious problems in our herd and having an extra set of eyes is a bonus. If you are going to do anything else to your cows at this time (like treat for parasites or vaccinate) wait until you know if they are open or bred, so you don’t spend the extra money or have to wait through a withdrawal period. Pal-pation does require some skill or expertise and some working facilities, namely a chute of some sort.
Other methods of pregnancy testing include the use of ultrasound and two blood tests, BioPRYN™ and IDEXX™. With ultrasound, a technician or veterinarian can detect pregnancy around 35 days and they can also detect the sex of the calf and the possible presence of twins. Ultra-sound equipment can be expensive for commercial cattle operations, but many veterinarians and reproductive physiologists have them. My daughter, a veterinarian, has two of them. 
The two blood tests are similar in that they both detect a placenta-forming hormone. A minimum of 2 ml (2 cc) of whole (red) blood is collected in a red-top tube and is sent unrefrigerated to a laboratory (BioPryn™) or veterinarian (IDEXX™) for analysis. These tests are very accurate in heifers, as they will only have the hormone if they are pregnant, but slightly less so in cows. Cows that have calved and turned out with bulls for breeding can still have the hormone circulating in their blood up to about 90 days. It is recommended that testing be done 28 days post breeding (60 days after calving) for best results. The test is essentially a “yes” or “no” result. Depending on your costs and herd size, most of these tests usually cost less than $10 per result.
At the cost of about $1.50-2.00 per day to run cows, spending a few dollars per head to detect pregnancy is inexpensive insurance. For more information on pregnancy testing contact your beef cattle veterinarian or local county extension agent.
ICA

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