FARM FACTS: Pregnancy Checking – Is it worth it?

By Will Stallard , U.K. Extension Agent for Agriculture

Pregnancy detection is a technology that is vastly underutilized in the beef industry. I have found through visiting with producers and veterinarians that only 10-20 percent of our cattle are pregnancy checked. Most of the time when I ask why the answers are either “it doesn’t pay”, “I don’t want to pay the vet for anything I don’t have to,” “it takes too long” or “the bull’s out all year so it won’t work for my herd”.
If it takes you five hours to work 40 cows because you have a 40 year-old wooden head gate and an 8-foot chute, it won’t be easy and the vet won’t want to come back. If the bull’s out all year, you can still pregnancy check cows, but you will not get as much information and you need to consider some other management changes.
Pregnancy detection is worth it! It costs an average of $535 per year to keep a cow. If you keep an open cow, you are paying her $535 to be a pasture ornament! Most herds, even small herds, have at least one open cow every year. In the US, an average of 10 to 25 percent of the cows in a herd are open depending on location and herd size. The vets usually charge less than $10 per head to pregnancy check cows. If you find one open cow in a herd of 20-100 cows you have easily paid for the vet’s trip. Open cows don’t pay, but rather cost you money that you can never get back. Culling open cows is usually the best thing to do.
Often vets will charge by the hour (especially if you have poor facilities!). If you have good facilities you can work cattle quickly and reduce the cost per head. In addition, the lower wear and tear on you will pay off in the long run. You can make pregnancy detection even more valuable if you combine it with a thorough examination of each cow. This should be the time that you really give that cow the once over–her annual review.
-Body condition score her-Is she a 5 or 6 (just right) or is she overly thin or fat?
-Check her eyes
-Check her feet and legs
-Look at her udder for problems
-Mouth her (check her teeth) to see how old she is
-Check her mental health-is she calm and easy to work or does she put you over the fence and try to stomp you when you tag her calf
-Treat her for grubs and lice
-Check to see if she has a good calf or a little hairball calf?
Get more out of the vet. One of the major expenses is just getting the vet to the farm. Make the most of him or her while they are there. Get them to review your herd health program. Have them treat that bad foot or bad eye.
Give your program a review by asking yourself some questions. Am I producing the right kind of calves? Is my nutritional program working? Should I shorten my breeding season? Do my facilities need updating or repair? Often producers will ask if they can learn pregnancy detection. Some can and do, but for most small herds, you will be better off with a vet doing your checking because of their experiences. You may be able to say they are bred or not but to be proficient in saying how far a long in months a cow is, you have got to check a lot of cows on a regular basis to get a feel for how many months bred a cow is.
If you make pregnancy detection a complete review, have good facilities, and use additional vet services while they are there, you will find pregnancy detection is well worth the time and cost. I encourage you to set up an appointment with your vet today and get those cows pregnancy checked. Those open cows will cost you money to feed and keep around.
For more information, contact me at the Lincoln County Extension Office, 104 Metker, Stanford, 365-2447.