Preg­nancy test­ing and man­ag­ing your open cows


As win­ter ap­proaches and calves are weaned, many cow/ calf pro­duc­ers are get­ting their cat­tle preg­nancy tested. Preg­nancy test­ing helps keep you in­formed about the sta­tus of your herd and helps max­i­mize re­turns.

Preg­nancy test­ing is usu­ally per­formed by a vet­eri­nar­ian for ap­prox­i­mately $5 per head. Ve­teri­nar­i­ans can use an ul­tra­sound ma­chine or rec­tal pal­pa­tion to ac­cu­rately de­ter­mine if a cows is preg­nant, and how far into ges­ta­tion they are. This is a very quick pro­ce­dure, and hav­ing a vet­eri­nar­ian come to your farm can help im­prove re­la­tion­ship, which is be­com­ing even more im­por­tant with the changes to an­tibi­otic ac­cess that come into ef­fect on De­cem­ber 1.

Be­ing aware of how many open cat­tle you have can help with early de­tec­tion of ma­jor is­sues on your farm. The av­er­age open rate is seven per cent for cows and 10 per cent for heifers – a big change from your usual open rates could in­di­cate an un­der­ly­ing prob­lem with your bulls, nutri­tion pro­gram, or herd health, and will have big costs in lost pro­duc­tion. Know­ing about these is­sues early al­lows you time to ad­dress them, and pre­pare for the com­ing year.

What should you do with open cows? It de­pends on your farm. In years like this, where good feed is in short sup­ply, many pro­duc­ers opt to sell im­me­di­ately to re­duce win­ter feed­ing costs. Al­ter­na­tively, you could feed your open cows sep­a­rately to put some weight on, and mar­ket them later to avoid his­tor­i­cally lower prices in the fall.

There are many fac­tors to con­sider when mak­ing this de­ci­sion, but one of the most sig­nif­i­cant is win­ter feed­ing cost: the sin­gle big­gest ex­pense for cow/calf pro­duc­ers. The more it will cost you to feed your open cows, the more ben­e­fit you will see in culling early. Sell­ing sooner also re­duces po­ten­tial ve­teri­nary costs and labour. If you do have enough feed avail­able, an­other im­por­tant fac­tor is daily gain. Putting more pounds on your cull cows be­fore mar­ket­ing them means bet­ter re­turns in the spring. This is best achieved by sep­a­rately feed­ing your open cows a high-en­ergy ra­tion. Other things to con­sider when de­cid­ing how to man­age your open cows in­clude tax­able in­come, your abil­ity to man­age sep­a­rate feed­ing groups, as well as cur­rent and pro­jected mar­kets.

With so much to con­sider, it can be chal­leng­ing to make the best de­ci­sions for your op­er­a­tion. Luck­ily, there are plenty of tools that can help:

- The Beef Cat­tle Re­search Coun­cil has a web tool that com­pares the gain or loss per head when preg-check­ing and culling in the fall com­pared to culling in the spring. There is a ba­sic and ad­vanced vari­a­tion of this tool – the more de­tailed records and in­for­ma­tion you have, the more ac­cu­rate the re­sults will be.

- Man­i­toba Agri­cul­ture also has a fil­l­able ex­cel spread­sheet to help you de­ter­mine the cost of over­win­ter­ing your cat­tle.

- Al­berta Agri­cul­ture and Forestry’s Cow­bytes pro­gram helps de­ter­mine the cost of your win­ter ra­tion – and to for­mu­late more pre­cise di­ets while you’re at it.

The cost of preg­nancy test­ing your cat­tle is neg­li­gi­ble when com­pared to the po­ten­tial value in man­ag­ing your opens ap­pro­pri­ately. You can’t man­age what you don’t mea­sure. Cull cows gen­er­ally com­prise 15 to 30 per cent of cow/calf pro­ducer in­come, and preg­nancy test­ing is a key tool in man­ag­ing this sig­nif­i­cant rev­enue.

For more in­for­ma­tion on this or other live­stock re­lated top­ics, con­tact your lo­cal Re­gional Live­stock and Feed Ex­ten­sion Spe­cial­ist, call the Agri­cul­ture Knowl­edge Cen­tre at 1-866-457-2377.

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