The Cow-Calf Manager
Livestock Update, October 1998
John B. Hall, Ph.D., Extension Animal Scientist, Beef, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech
Pregnancy detection is a technology that is vastly under utilized in the beef industry. In Virginia, I have found through various surveys and visiting with producers and veterinarians that only 20 - 40 % of our producers pregnancy check their cows. Most of the time when I ask why the answers are either "it doesn't pay," "I don't want to pay the vet for anything I don't have to," "it takes too long", or "the bull's out all year - it won't work."
If all you're going to do to those cows when they are in the chute is preg check them, then it may not be worth it. If it takes you 5 hours to work 40 cows because you have a 40 year-old wooden headgate and an 8-foot chute, it won't be easy and the vet won't want to come back. If the bull's out all year, you can still preg check cows, but you will not get as much information and you need to consider some other management changes.
Pregnancy detection is worth it! It costs an average of $300 per year to keep a cow in Virginia. If you keep an open cow, you are paying her $300 to be a pasture ornament! Most herds, even small herds, have at least one open cow every year. In the US, an average of 10 to 25% of the cows in a herd are open depending on location and herd size. The vets I have talked with charge between $1.50 to $3.00 per head to preg check cows. If you find one open cow in a herd of 20 - 100 cows you have easily paid for the vet's trip.
A good vet should be able to age fetuses and give you expected calving dates. Therefore, it will make your job easier come calving season. In order to do this, the bull needs to be out at least 45 days and no cow should be farther along than 120 to 130 days. Often vets will charge by the hour (especially if you have poor facilities!). If you have good facilities you can work cattle quickly and reduce the cost per head. In addition, the lower wear and tear on you will pay off in the long run.
Add value to pregnancy detection. You can make pregnancy detection even more valuable if you combine it with a through examination of each cow. This should be the time that you really give that cow the once over -- her annual review.
Get more out of the vet. One of the major expenses is just getting the vet to the farm. Make the most of him or her while they are there. Have them vaccinate your replacement heifers against brucellosis. Get them to review your herd health program. Have them treat that bad foot or bad eye.
Give your program a review. Am I producing the right kind of calves? Is my nutritional program working? Is my herd getting too old? Should I shorten my breeding season? Do I want to try AI next year? Do my facilities need updating or repair?
Often producers will ask if they can learn pregnancy detection. Some can and do, but it takes about 1,500 cows to get proficient to the point of aging fetuses. In addition, you usually need to palpate more than once a year to stay accurate. If you make pregnancy detection a complete review, have good facilities, and use additional vet services while they are there, you will find pregnancy detection is well worth the time and cost.