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The Cattle Connection

The cattlemen's connection to timely topics, current research, and profitable management strategies

The Value in Pregnancy Checking

This piece is authored by Dr. Dallas Duncan DVM, Large Animal Veterinarian with Mt. Sterling Vet Clinic.

Pregnancy checking of cattle can save producers more money than most other management practices. The single highest costs associated with cattle are feed costs. Meaning, feeding an open cow through winter is a huge drain on a production operation. In my mind, it is essential that cattle be pregnancy checked so valuable hay or other winter feed stockpiles are not wasted on open cows. Over the last few years winter feed costs have ranged from $450-$600 per cow, therefore spending a few dollars per head to make sure cows are pregnant makes good economic sense. In addition, dollars are not only lost in feed costs but also can be lost through mineral, vaccines, de-wormers and any other additional carrying costs. Before having your cattle pregnancy checked a producer should observe the cows to see if they are in the appropriate body condition and to evaluate feet, leg, eye, and teeth problems. It is smart to evaluate these issues as cattle with existing problems are less likely to forage well during the winter months. With high winter feeds costs and the current cull cow prices, it makes good sense to only keep efficiently producing cattle in the herd that are doing their job. Keep in mind that job is to wean as high of a percentage of her body weight as possible every 12 months and do so on as little feed as possible.

A pregnancy exam typically costs a producer approximately $5 per head. When doing the math one can quickly see how $5 per head for a pregnancy check can easily save a production operation hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending on the number of open cows in the herd. Not only can pregnancy checking save a producer money in feed and maintenance costs, but it can also allows a cattlemen to make more profitable marketing decisions. Knowing which cattle need to be sold allows for decision making concerning weaning of calves early and selling culls when market is high, selling open heifers when they are still young enough to be marketed in feeder sales, and one can sort off and feed thin cows in order to bring a higher price from selling more pounds.

Marketing is not the only aspect that pregnancy checking can enhance, it's a tremendous tool for overall herd management. Problem cows are typically identified and culled sooner in herds that do regular preg checks. Cows can be grouped into early or late season calvers and fed accordingly which will allow them to be more efficient, which equates more profit. Scour vaccines can be given at the appropriate time to optimize colostral antibodies. Knowing that too large of a percentage of cows are open suggests to the vet and cattlemen that further investigation is needed to look for possible abortion problems. Abortion can be due to many infectious agents such as IBR, BVD, Leptospirosis, and Neospora. Conception problems can also be an issue. Nutritional issues such as deficiencies or excessive amounts of energy, trace minerals, and protein. Bull infertility issues can be suggested from a pregnancy exam. Overall, knowing the reproductive status of a group of cattle allows for a much more precise management practice which will result in more profit.

If pregnancy checking has been lacking on your operation we would like to assist you with incorporating this management tool. Pregnancy Exam is a small cost with many added benefits and should be one the easiest economic decisions in a cow-calf operation.

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