The importance of pregnancy checking the cow herd

  From the September 17, 2018 issue of Agri-News
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 In a year where feed supplies are tight, knowing which cows are pregnant and which ones are open provides options that may not otherwise be available.

“Feed can amount to two-thirds of a beef operation’s total costs,” says Dean Dyck, farm business management specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre. “Carefully considering the feeding program could mean the difference between profitability and red on the bottom line of the balance sheet. With feed costs on the rise, keeping the open animals could cut into profitability.”

Strong culling practices can also help reduce the feed requirements of the herd. “Feed costs could vary from just under $2 per cow on a straw/grain/canola meal diet to almost $3.25 per cow if she is fed a straight hay diet,” explains Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist at the Ag-Info Centre In a herd of 100 cows, the cheaper ration would save $124 per day.”

Knowing the status of each cow provides the chance to wean her calf early if she is open and to take advantage of the market. “If an open cow is thin, weaning early allows easier fattening for market,” says Andrea Hanson, livestock extension specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “Preg checking yearling heifers early allows the open ones to be sold at an age that would still bring top dollar.”

New ultrasound technology means that a pregnancy can be detected as early as 40 days. “Speak with your veterinarian to determine what they require and their schedule,” says Hanson. “Then, develop a game plan for preg testing this fall.”

Hanson adds that some producers this year have tightened up their breeding season as a way to identify the most fertile cows of the herd. “They are exposing replacement heifers to a bull for 30 days, with a 45 day exposure for the rest of the cow herd. Adequate bull power is very important in this scenario to ensure the females who are fertile are bred in a small window of time. While this system for breeding may seem extreme, in a year when feed supplies are tight and costs high, looking for excuses to cull are not a bad idea and will create a very productive herd for the future.”

For a commercial cattle producer, profitability of the operation depends on the GOLD management indicators: G – growth of the calves, O – open rate, L – length of calving, and D – death loss. “Bottom line is pounds of calf weaned to cows exposed to the bull,” notes Hanson. “Any cow not pulling her weight by raising a calf needs to be culled so she isn’t eating up the profits of the operation.”

As for the economic value of preg checking, Dyck says that it depends on the cull cow market price, the producer’s management system, feed and overhead costs, as well as veterinary costs. “Higher cull cow values in the spring and additional weight put on in the winter may offset higher feeding costs. The Canfax factsheet The Economics of Preg-Checking provides some useful context. Higher feed and overwintering costs favour pregnancy checking and cull cows in the fall. Given the price of hay this year, a hay ration would suggest that strategy.”

Cow value is often a more important factor in the economics of pregnancy checking than either overwintering or veterinary costs. Explains Dyck, “As of September 11, 2018, cull cow prices are tracking between 78 and 92 cents per lb. Should these prices drop below 75 cents per lb., many scenarios indicate that preg checking and culling in the fall is a better option as the cost of overwintering begins to outweigh the benefit of selling heavier cull cows in the spring. Conversely, higher cull cow prices in the spring favour overwintering as every additional pound is worth more. Watch for declining prices from fall to spring, as this will encourage pregnancy checking. The Beef Cattle Research Council has developed the Economics of Pregnancy Testing Beef Cattle Model which is simple to use and effective in showing the economics of preg checking”

For more information, contact the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).

Alberta Ag-Info Centre
310-FARM (3276)

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Andrea Hanson.
This document is maintained by Christine Chomiak.
This information published to the web on September 10, 2018.