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Early Pregnancy Determination in the Beef Herd

By Dr. Brett Kroeze

Every year there is the question of when should I or should I pull out the bull away from the cows.  A lot of this decision depends on how long of calving season you want next spring and how drawn out your calving season was this spring.  60-70% of cows and heifers should be pregnant in the first 21 day cycle for the breeding season and another 20-30% should be pregnant on the second 21 day cycle. If you have a lot of late calvers these percentages will be lower because cows that calve late will not be ready to become pregnant when the bulls are turned out. The goal is to have 88-90% of cows and heifers bred within the first 4 21 day cycles.  If we can get 90% pregnant in 2-3 cycles we can have a shorter calving season and more uniform calf crop equaling a more profitable operation. One option to consider is to put the bull in for 60 days pull the bull for 30 days and then preg check using ultrasound.

There are several advantages to preg checking cows and heifers early.  Determining the health and repro status of the cows and heifers helps determine if a disease process or nutritional process is affecting your herd.  Many of these problems show up as more than normal open or late calving animals. The earlier you preg check cows the better accuracy we can give you as to when the cows conceived.  Early pregnancy determination allows you to potentially know what cows are open 90 days after you turn out the bull.  If you artificially inseminated cows, this will give you more accurate information on what cows got pregnant from AI and what cows got pregnant from the bull.  More accurate calving dates will give you more options to group cows when it comes to switching pastures and grouping cows for calving season. You can separate cows based on predicted calving dates, but understand that there is a normal distribution of calving 10-15 days before and after the predicted date.  Knowing which cows are open earlier, gives you more options of how to deal with the open and cull cows. It gives you the option to feed them for a while to get some more pounds, or the option of selling them right away, saving feed costs while avoiding the historical low market price in the fall when everyone else is selling open cows.  There is also the ability of early weaning calves from open cows and cull cows.  Forage quality and quantity are usually lower late summer and early fall and selling cows during this time period will free up forage for cows that are still nursing and carrying a calf.

Early pregnancy checking may not work for all producers as it takes labor and facilities to make it work efficiently, and for some these two things may not be available during the summer months.  It also requires the ability to pull the bulls away from the cows and house and feed them separately.  There is a small percentage of cows (1-2%) that may abort after they are confirmed pregnant.  These cows would show up as open or late calvers if preg checking them later and would have spontaneously aborted whether you preg check them early or not.

In summary there are several advantages to make your operation more profitable by determining pregnancy status early.  However, it does not work in every operation and consideration of all benefits and disadvantages should be made to see if it works for you.

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