As the days get shorter and daytime high temperatures fall, many cattle operations are focused on weaning calves, making final preparations for the coming winter and the arrival of next year’s crop of calves.
The operation is also set to enter the most expensive part of the production cycle – feeding a cow through the winter.
This period in the production cycle can represent 60 to 70 percent of all production costs of an operation.
It was estimated that in 2013 the average hay price will be $195 per ton, which is $22 per ton more than the previous year’s price.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have indicated that feed costs for beef producers have increased 34 percent since 2006.
This increase in the cost of feed and other inputs is making it increasingly hard for producers to receive a return on their investment.
The average cost to maintain a cow has risen from $604 in 2011 to $740 in 2012. This figure can vary by the production methods of the operation but represents an increase of 22 percent in the space of one year.
With the rising costs of production, producers must focus on obtaining the highest return on every dollar spent by the operation.
A couple of areas producers may want to focus on include controlling or reducing the costs associated with the yearly maintenance of a cow and effectively marketing cull animals.
There are many inputs that go into the maintenance of a cow over the year. One of the often overlooked costs is the cost associated with a cow that does not produce a calf.
The maintenance cost of a cow not producing a calf can eliminate the income of one to two productive cows.
This can be easily avoided by checking each cow in the herd for pregnancy. According to the 2007 National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) survey, only 22 percent of all beef herds surveyed performed pregnancy examinations.
In addition to the cost savings realized by reducing the number of cows that do not produce a calf each year, producers are provided with additional information that can be vital in the management of the herd.
Most importantly, this allows for the evaluation of each animal and the determination of whether an animal is contributing to the herd’s bottom line.
There are three methods available to producers to determine the pregnancy status of cows: rectal palpation, ultrasonography and chemical pregnancy tests.
Rectal palpation, performed by a veterinarian or technician, is the traditional method for determination of pregnancy status.
The uterus is examined for signs of pregnancy. This technique can be performed by a trained person as early as 30 days post-breeding.
Over the last decade, ultrasonography has become more popular. This technique uses a rectal probe to examine the uterus for signs of pregnancy.
Ultrasounds can be used for examinations earlier than rectal palpation but still cannot be used prior to 26 to 28 days post-breeding.
Other technologies have been developed to evaluate blood samples for pregnancy status. These tests analyze a sample of blood for the presence of proteins produced by the placenta of the growing fetus.
The first of these tests, called BioPRYN, determines the presence of pregnancy-specific protein in the blood.
Cows can be determined pregnant or open based on the amount of pregnancy-specific protein present in a blood sample. These tests can be used as early as 28 days post-breeding.
As input costs have risen, it has become increasingly important to determine the pregnancy status of all females in the herd as early after the end of the breeding season as possible. This allows the producer to perform an analysis of how to manage these animals to maximize their value.
When marketing those animals that have been found open, it is important to keep in mind the cull cow market is highly seasonal.
Historically, markets are at their lowest in November, December and January and highest during March, April and May.
The lowest point in the market generally occurs when producers are weaning calves and culling cows from the herd, thus flooding the market. The highest points are generally when cattle are calving and cull or open cow supplies are tighter.
In some cases, these higher prices have allowed producers the opportunity to receive greater returns on animals that were open in the spring.
Pregnancy checking is a vital part of the cow-calf management system and is crucial in controlling cow maintenance costs and allowing the producer to explore options to maximize returns in the production of cattle.
Pregnancy checking in the fall is a vital part of the cow-calf management system and is a crucial component of controlling costs and maximizing returns.
Jeremy Howard is a reproduction specialist with BioTracking and can be contacted by email or at (208) 882-9736.
Cows can be determined pregnant or open based on the amount of pregnancy-specific protein present in a blood sample. These tests can be used as early as 28 days post-breeding. Photo courtesy of BioTracking.
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