Benefits of Pregnancy Testing in Cow-Calf Herds | Part 1
Working with a veterinarian to pregnancy test cows is a valuable tool available to cow-calf producers. For many producers, calling the vet to schedule pregnancy testing on an annual (or more frequent) basis is an important part of their operation, but many producers do not pregnancy test their cows regularly. The 2007-08 United State Department of Agriculture National Animal Health Monitoring System (USDA NAHMS) Beef Study found that only 20% of beef operations in the United States used palpation or ultrasound for pregnancy diagnosis.2 This same study cited labor/time required and cost as the top two reasons why either ultrasound or palpation for pregnancy checking cows was not used.1 Although pregnancy testing does require facilities that can properly restrain individual animals, the benefits of pregnancy testing cows to your operations profitability and efficiency can quickly help offset costs associated with infrastructure or veterinary services.
The first benefit of pregnancy testing is identifying open cows. Cull cow markets are often best in late summer and early fall, making early pregnancy testing for spring calving herds advantageous to producers who want the most from open cows in the cull market. Forage quality is typically decreasing by this time of the year as well, so off-loading open cows allows producers to focus remaining forage resources on pregnant cows, helping to ensure proper body condition as winter approaches. Often producers believe they can hold open cows through the winter and take advantage of higher cull prices in the spring. If forage resources are abundant, and body condition is not a concern, this may be feasible. However, in situations where feed costs are high or body condition is poor, this likely isn’t profitable because the feed resources needed to maintain or improve body condition score through the winter outweigh any potential increase in value seen in the spring. Resources allocated to open cows are also not available to pregnant cows, so open cows should never be retained at the expense of improving or maintaining body condition in pregnant cows.
Understanding the cost associated with open cows in your herd is important. Data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service indicate that from 2018-2020, the national cull cow price averaged $63 cwt, making a 1,200 lb. cull cow worth $756. This value can help offset costs associated with maintaining the open cow from breeding through pregnancy check. If pregnancy checking does not occur and the cow is not determined to be open until she doesn’t calve, additional costs associated with feeding and maintaining the cow are accrued. This additional cost may not be offset by the approximate average $756 value of the open cull cow if the cow is retained until after she doesn’t calve. Therefore, finding open cows through early pregnancy detection, and culling them before they run up the feed bill can improve the financial efficiency and profitability of the cow-calf operation.
The next article will focus on types and uses of information gathered during pregnancy testing cows, and how this information can be used to improve an operation’s efficiency and profitability.
- USDA APHIS VS NAHMS. Beef 2007-08 Part II: Reference of Beef Cow-calf Management Practices in the United States, 2007-08. 2007-08 Natl Anim Heal Monit Syst Beef Study 2009.