Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Diagnose cowherd pregnancy now for extra money in the pocket later

Kari Lewis, MSU Extension - Glacier County

It’s finally August, which means that on the cow-calf side, I’m looking forward to fall cow work, when the days are cooler and it’s time to pre-condition calves and preg-test cows.  Recently, yearling prices have really taken off, with many dry yearling heifers selling in the $1.20 to $1.40/lb. range, which can easily create $1,100 to $1,200 yearlings.  This may be a valuable time to consider early pregnancy diagnosis on those yearling heifers in order to capitalize on the current prices.
                Early pregnancy diagnosis can create additional marketing options on both the yearling heifer and cow side.  Knowing which heifers or cows are open allows you to sell open heifers now when they’ll bring top dollar, and to wean calves early from the open cows, allowing cows to be marketed early in the year saving forage during a drought as well.  Iowa State Extension summarized the price of cull cows out of Sioux Falls, SD from 2005 to 2014, and there was a $11/cwt advantage to selling cows in August versus November.  On a 1,300-pound cow, that extra $11/cwt equates to nearly an additional $145/head, simply by targeting an earlier marketing window on those dry cows. 
Data from Iowa State Extension article, 'Seasonal Price Patterns' by Lee Schulz, Extension Economist, available at  Prices for utility cows are typically greatest in the summer months, thus early pregnancy detection to market open cows in a more favorable market environment is especially attractive.  
                In addition, early pregnancy detection also allows cows to be sorted into calving groups, with later calving cows not needing as high quality of nutrition as the earlier calving cows.  Similarly, it always surprises me when I hear of folks who don’t pregnancy test, as that means they end up feeding dry cows all winter long, when that $200 in winter feeding costs could be going to cows that will instead produce a calf.  Even if the plan is to add extra weight and condition on to dry cows before they are sold, that can be done in a much more economical manner than feeding the dry cows the same ration as pregnant cows.  For less than $5/head, a pregnancy diagnosis can help sort out dry cows versus using hay and supplement on cows that won’t produce a calf. 
Early pregnancy detection in yearling heifers and cows can
allow producers to capitalize on a better market, and save grass
for bred cows.  Photo by Kari Lewis.
                Rectal palpation is the traditional pregnancy detection method, which allows detection of pregnancy by as early as 35 to 40 days pregnancy.  Experienced veterinarians can estimate pregnancy stage with relative accuracy between 30 to 100 days pregnant. 
                Ultrasound can detect pregnancy earlier than palpation, as early as three to four weeks after the heifer or cow has been bred.  In addition, ultrasound can provide additional information such as incidence of twins and calf sex, which rectal palpation cannot do.  From approximately day 55 to day 70, ultrasound can be used to detect calf sex, which can be valuable information if choosing to market a group of heifers or cows, and can advertise them as carrying all bull calves or all heifer calves. 
                Given current yearling prices and knowing traditional cull cow market price patterns, now is the time to consider early pregnancy diagnosis in your cowherd. 


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