This article was written collaboratively by Olivia Amundson and George Perry.
Beef cows need to become pregnant, deliver healthy calves and wean productive calves in order for producers to make their operation economically profitable. However, every year beef females fail to become pregnant for numerous reasons including anestrous, pre-puberty, disease, sub-optimal management, and unknown reasons. Incorporation of timely pregnancy detection has multiple advantages for producers including 1) the ability to assess reproductive performance of their operation; 2) group cattle based on expected calving date; 3) improve management strategies; 4) focus the correct time and labor needed during calving; 5) allow producers to take advantage of marketing options for these animals; and 6) decrease winter-feeding costs.
The expense to maintain an open cow through the winter is paid for by the calves born and weaned the following year. For example to maintain a 1250 lbs. bred cow during the winter currently requires approximately $1.30 per day. This would result in roughly $270 per cow for wintering costs. For a herd of 100 cows where 7 are left open that results in an additional $1,890. This would then increase the cost of the remaining 97 calves by $19.48. Additional costs after calving can be associated with calf mortality or cows calving late in the season, which can further reduce the overall revenue per cow exposed. Determining the cows expected calving date can help assist producers with increasing revenue per cow exposed.
Calves gain 1.5 to 2 lbs. per day while sucking their dam, this allows a calf born early in the calving season to gain 90-120 more pounds than a calf born 60 days into the calving season. With the current price of a 400-500 lbs. calf being approximately $2.00 per pound, determining expected calving date can increase pounds weaned and total revenue. While producers cannot overcome all reasons for infertility, understanding the costs associated with it can help take advantage of opportunities to add value and correctly manage any open cows.
For cows calving January-April pregnancy detection usually occurs during August to November. Cull cow prices tend to be 5-10% higher in August than October, and cows still have quality forage to maintain weight at this time. Determining cull cows early also allows producers flexibility in their marketing strategies for optimal revenue generated. Furthermore, producers that utilize early pregnancy detection on heifers have the advantage in marketing options. They can either market that open female as soon as they are identified or continue to put weight on her and market at a later time, both allowing that female to maintain a maturity class A for carcass quality.
Many different methods of pregnancy detection are available to cattle producers. One of the oldest methods of pregnancy detection is the absence of estrus or a calf on the ground during calving season. Historically, veterinarians have performed pregnancy diagnosis by rectal palpation, however, more recent advancements in pregnancy detection are now available. Advancements in pregnancy detection include transrectal ultrasonography and blood pregnancy tests that uses a diagnostic technique to measure a pregnancy associated glycoprotein (PAG) secreted by the fetus. While each detection method has its benefits and downfalls, pregnancy detection can have multiple benefits in any operation. However, it is important to evaluate each technology based on the type of operation as well as that operation’s ability to access the technology. However, when incorporating pregnancy detection into an operation producers can increase the overall revenue of their operation as well as add value to their herd.