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Blood pregnancy test clarifies decisions for Texas cattleman

Jeremy Howard Published on 24 April 2012
Taking a blood sample from a cow's tail

For Eric Evans of Celeste, Texas, 2011 was a tough year to be a cattleman. Like most beef producers in the southern U.S., record-low rainfall levels left the Hunt County, Texas, operation low on feedstuffs and searching for answers on how to keep the bottom line in the black.

Evans found a solution in blood pregnancy testing.

“Last fall, we were in a drought down here,” he says, remembering feedstuffs were in short supply and the forages and grains available were expensive. “We had to closely manage what animals were kept and culled.”

Ultimately, open cows were the first to be eliminated from the 200-cow herd.

“We used blood pregnancy testing to sort our pregnant and open cows into groups,” Evans says. “Because we were able to tell if the cows were pregnant early, we were able to make culling decisions about a month after the cattle were bred.”

Unlike traditional methods, blood pregnancy testing relies on a laboratory testing process. Evans was able to draw blood samples from his cattle and drop them off at D’s Diagnostics, located in Cumby, Texas, only 15 minutes from his operation.

Denise Fawcett, owner of D’s Diagnostics, then analyzed the samples for Pregnancy Specific Protein B or PSPB.

PSPB is produced by the placenta – therefore, only pregnant animals will have the protein in their blood.

This test is more accurate than earlier attempts at pregnancy diagnosis that evaluated blood or milk for progesterone or other hormones that can occur in normally cycling animals.

PSPB can be detected easily using the test, so results are returned to operations within 24 hours.

Evans says he often received test results early the next day and that he gained confidence in the blood pregnancy testing process as he monitored the herd’s progress.

Looking back, he also realized other benefits of using blood pregnancy. He emphasizes that it is much more convenient and efficient, as blood samples can be pulled from select groups of cattle as needed or the entire herd can be brought in at one time.

“When we want to test a smaller group of cattle, we don’t have to pay a trip charge for the vet to come out to do exams on 20 or 50 cows,” he says, adding that the veterinarian can now focus on other aspects of herd management. “We can test the cows when it fits into our schedules.”

Though drought conditions have improved in eastern Texas and ample ryegrass and oat rations are now available for Evans’ herd, he continues to utilize blood pregnancy testing on the entire herd, including cattle purchased with the goal of reselling throughout the year.

Once cattle are confirmed pregnant (which can now be done 28 days post-breeding through blood pregnancy testing), the herd is separated into groups of pregnant versus open cows.

Each group is managed differently within separate paddocks, helping to alleviate stocking density stress.

“We can feed the pregnant cows differently and keep trying to breed the open cows,” he says, explaining that an earlier turnaround with blood pregnancy testing can help to shorten calving windows.

Neighboring beef operations are now relying on blood pregnancy testing with Evans’ help. After perfecting his blood sample drawing skills, he says the process is simple once the cattle are inside a working chute or holding area.

“We make it quick,” he says. “It’s an efficient process because I number all my tubes sequentially with a corresponding submission form.

Instead of writing each of the animal’s ID numbers on the tube, somebody is in charge of writing the cow ID numbers on the submission form.”

If all the cows are in a holding area and move through the chute efficiently, Evans estimates that a team can pull up to 500 blood samples per day.

Each of the operations Evans works with utilizes blood pregnancy testing for their own reasons – they range from savings on veterinary time for the operation, timing convenience and culling options.

Whatever the reason behind using the innovative technology, Evans assures that producers can be confident in blood pregnancy testing if proper protocols are followed.

“After we get the blood pregnancy test results, we can start making decisions right away,” he says. “And we’ve been happy with those decisions.

New changes have made the test even more accurate on short-bred pregnancies – that’s going to help us to decide earlier who to keep, who to breed and who to cull.”  end_mark

Jeremy Howard can be contacted at (208) 882-9736.

Jeremy Howard

Reproduction Specialist
BioTracking LLC

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