The time to start pregnancy checking spring calving cows and heifers is here or just around the corner for cattle producers across the country. Knowing if cows or heifers are pregnant is important heading into the fall and winter months because it can help reduce the feed bill by removing open females from the herd.
It can also be beneficial to know if your breeding program is working correctly from a fertility standpoint. While interventions to breed the herd can’t be made this year, it can help with reproduction decisions in the future like nutrition and bull selection.
There are a number of different pregnancy detection methods such as rectal palpation, ultra-sound and blood pregnancy tests can choose. In addition to these thoughts, here are four suggestions gathered up from Extension specialists in various parts of the U.S.:
Even in states where forage grows year-round it can be expensive to keep open females. A budget developed by University of Florida researchers shows it costs up to $400 per cow per year to keep a cow fed in the state. Keeping an open cow through weaning could add up to an additional $200.
“In today’s cattle market, these freeloaders need to be culled and sold, once their current calf is weaned,” says Doug Mayo, extension specialist with the University of Florida.
Knowing when your bulls were turned out or the first female was artificially inseminated (AI) helps project when the herd will start calving. Also for those producers who use AI in their breeding program having breeding can aid in determining if the sire was AI or natural service.
“Having a known breeding date makes predicting a service sire or calving date much easier and a forced gap between AI and cleanup natural service even more so,” says Sandy Johnson, livestock production specialist with Kansas State University Research and Extension.
When the herd has been pregnancy checked a distribution of calving windows can be laid out to help better manage cows and heifers. Johnson says a producer can then make decisions like altering rations and separating cows into different groups by gestation length.
There are several methods that can be used for early pregnancy diagnosis, says Aaron Berger beef systems extension educator for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Decisions on pregnancy detection will vary based on goals, costs and resources available.
“A combination of methods may be used under some circumstances to identify pregnancy,” Berger says.
Palpation could be used for heifers bred early into a 30 day breeding season, but a blood test might be better suited for those bred later in the season.
Pregnancy rates will vary from ranch to ranch for heifers. Having 10% or more open heifers may not be the sign of a poor heifer development program, says Glenn Selk, emeritus extension specialist at Oklahoma State University.
“Resist the temptation to keep these open heifers and ‘roll them over’ to a fall-calving herd. These are the very heifers that you want to identify early and remove from the herd,” Selk says.
It makes more business sense to sell the open heifers, rather than create more problems in the future by keeping poor fertility genetics.