For decades, we’ve always had the veterinarian palpate our cows for chute-side determination of pregnancy. This year, i decided to try blood testing, so i contacted our veterinarian and asked him about the process. He said he’d never done that for an entire herd, but has used the process for individual animals.
There are some reasons for the change, primarily because i thought it would be less stressful for the cow and the vet and i think that is an important issue. If there is opportunity to reduce stress and physical labor, then the option should be explored – especially as we ranchers, farmers, veterinarians, and others are getting old. We break more easily, don’t move as fast, and get tired more quickly.
My cows and especially yearling heifers are smaller frame than many owners’ and the rectum is just not large enough to comfortably accommodate a big arm. Damage to fetus, rectum, and vet’s arm is more likely.
In just a few days, the results were ready and my vet’s office sent them to me via e-mail. The results: (i was very well pleased – especially since 3 of 4 bulls went bad at some point during the breeding season!) Overall, the pregnancy rate was 93% bred not counting 6 first calf heifers i bought (5 were open!). They did milk pretty heavy and are not adapted to managed grazing, so giving them a pass and will keep them another year.
- Yearling heifers (born in 2020) – 73% bred
- 2 year olds bred for the first time – 100% bred
- 3 year-olds – 85% bred
- 4 year-olds – 87% bred
- 5 year-olds – 85% bred
- 6 year-olds – 80% bred
- 7 year-olds – 100% bred
- 8 year-olds – 100% bred
- 10 year-old – 100% bred
- 20 year-old – 100% bred
After the work, receiving the bill and test information, followed by a chat with my veterinarian, i came away with the following points:
- Blood testing is similar in accuracy as palpating
- Blood testing is a bit more than twice as costly to implement
- For the veterinarian, there is about the same work, but is far less physically demanding
- Palpating allows chute side call and decision making based on pregnancy check – blood testing takes a few days
- Palpating at 50-60 days can cause embryonic death due to a fragile time for the fetus. Blood testing would not cause this.
- Blood testing is far less uncomfortable to smaller framed cows and young heifers.
- Cows palpated around 4 months pregnant have a higher incident of being called ‘open.’
- Blood testing takes about the same amount of time in the chute as palpating.
The actual out of pocket cost for blood testing was:
- Veterinarian charge – $3/head
- Blood testing – $4.50/head
- Shipping/Processing – $ .60/head
By Comparison, only the $3/head would be charged for palpating. So, what will i do next year? i haven’t decided, but it could be a combination of blood testing the small/medium frame cows and the 2 and 3 year old heifers/cows, then palpating the remaining. This would greatly reduce cost but would require sorting the cows into two groups before pregnancy check. Is that extra labor worth the savings over just blood testing all?
Here are my new thoughts on processing my cows and calves going forward, but will discuss with my veterinarian to see if it is reasonable. My biggest concern is changing to dates in the winter – our winters can be unreasonable cold and miserable, but usually there are a few days which are nice.
- 6 August – 20 September – Breeding season
- 15 May – 30 June – calving season
- Mid November-Vaccinate calves and preg check dry cows. Hold bull calves in pen to pair up, then wean them.
- Mid March – Preg check 3 years and older cows i plan to keep (maybe?)- no need to preg check first calf heifers since i would hold them over if open anyway. WEAN CALVES.
- Any cows which have developed a bad attitude or other reason for culling no need to preg check – they’ll need checking at sale barn.