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The Value of Pregnancy Checking the Cow Herd

August 16, 2016

Successfully managing drought conditions not only requires careful monitoring of pastures and inventory of feedstuffs, but management should also take into account the productive cow herd size. All producers can find value in pregnancy checking the cow herd whether they are looking or not for ways to stretch summer pastures.

Benefits of Pregnancy Checking

  1. Identify Open Females Earlier. Save on feed costs by removing open cows from pasture and replace with more cost effective resources (corn stalks, low quality hay, corn etc.)
  2. Manage Opens/Culls. Calculate cost of gain and determine if open/cull cows should be sold right away or if feeding them until higher prices return in the spring (March – April) would be profitable.
  3. Plan Calving Season. Determine the percent of females bred in the first 21 days of the season and plan pre-calving vaccinations, labor and facilities for times of peak calving activity. If twins are observed, extra nutrients and labor can be prioritized accordingly.
  4. Maintain 365 Day Calving Interval. Consider alternative management for late bred cows that do not fall within a yearly calving interval and may be more difficult to breed back next year. Examples: Option to enroll into fall calving herd next year or sell to operations that calve later.
  5. Value Added Marketing. Utilize pregnancy results to strategically market cows/calves. Examples: sell bred females by calving date, sell ET, AI, or gender specific pregnancies. 

Pregnancy detection can occur anytime 30 days after bulls are removed or breeding program is completed. With this said, it is most valuable to check as close to this 30-day guideline as possible in order to save valuable resources from going to cows that are not going to return a calf. Palpation, ultrasound and blood tests are available for pregnancy diagnosis at competitive prices depending on the information you want back. For example, blood tests do not give immediate results, where palpation or ultrasound do offer immediate feedback. Also, if gender of the progeny is desired then ultrasound would be the only option available.

Set Herd Goals
Enter pregnancy data and other cattle records into the SDSU Extension Beef Management and Reproduction Score Card and analyze where you currently are and set herd goals for where you want to be in the future.

Examples herd goals include:

  • By day 21, 42 and 63 of breeding season (3 cycles) have 61%, 85% and 94% of cows bred, respectively.
  • By day 30 of the calving season, have 70% of cows calved

Herd Management
Pregnancy detection is one of the best investments one can make for the cow herd as it allows cow/calf producers to increase reproductive efficiency and profitably of their operation. By knowing the overall season pregnancy rate, they can identity where problems might have occurred during the breeding season and discuss these issues with their herd veterinarian, reproductive technician or other trusted advisors. By identifying early calving cows, a more profitable herd can be designed as heifer calves born earlier in the season have greater pregnancy rates and longevity in the herd (Funston et al., 2011). In addition, steer progeny also benefit from being born during the first 21 days through greater WW, HCW, marbling score and carcass value (Larson and Funston, 2009). Lastly, opens, culls and late calving cows are best removed from the herd as a starting point to save forage if dry conditions continue through the fall.

More Information

Source: Taylor Grussing, South Dakota State University