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Midwest/North: Methods for early pregnancy detection

Erika Lundy for Progressive Cattle Published on 22 May 2020

It takes approximately six years for a beef cow to pay herself off before she starts generating a profit for the operation. Much of this expense is driven by the investment cost put into developing her.

Therefore, it’s important to make a pregnancy diagnosis early during her first year of production. If she fails to conceive on time her first year, she will need to remain in the herd even longer to cover her costs.

Despite the high annual expense of maintaining a beef cow, less than 20% of beef producers perform pregnancy checks. While there are a few methods for determining pregnancy, the goals of your operation and resources available to you will help determine which method is the best for your herd.

Palpation is the most common method for pregnancy recognition. Experience of the veterinarian will determine what the minimum days bred needs to be, although it’s commonly done as early as 30 days. Fetal aging is also a possibility.

Ultrasounding can typically be done as soon as 21 days after breeding with an experienced veterinarian, but generally comes at an added cost. With ultrasounding, the accuracy of indicating fetal age is greater than palpation. Ultrasounding is also easier to identify twins and fetal sex, although fetal sex is usually determined between 55 and 90 days bred.

More recently, interest in blood tests to determine pregnancy status has increased due to convenience, increased accuracy and the low cost. This method must be done at least 30 days after breeding. The only answer with this method of pregnancy detection is either “yes” or “no,” so it’s not an effective way to determine calving date or which females are A.I.-bred. Likewise, diagnosis results are not instant so will likely require getting the group in again to sort off open females.

A downfall to all methods of pregnancy detection is the potential to stress females. Research has demonstrated stress during early pregnancy can result in as much as 5% embryo loss. Therefore, be diligent about using low-stress cattle handling methods, consider weather and other factors to minimize stress.

Marketing breeding stock accounts for roughly 20% of income for cow-calf operations. Therefore, take advantage of opportunities to effectively market open or late-bred females earlier in the year to avoid marketing cull cows at seasonal market lows.  end mark

Erika Lundy
  • Erika Lundy

  • Extension Beef Program Specialist
  • Iowa Beef Center - Iowa State University
  • Email Erika Lundy

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