Why would you preg check your cows? The importance of preg checking your cows is so that you can better plan the future of your operation. You can save money by making a plan for cows that come up as open.
We preg checked our herd this last week. And to be quite honest, it’s one of the two biggest days in a year for a cattle producer. The other biggest day is sale day. On sale day, you hold your breath and your stomach is queasy thinking about how your calves will sell. What kind of profit you get is based on how your calves did this year and what the market is like. On preg check day, you find out how your bulls or AI practice did. It also helps determine what changes may or may not be happening in your herd. And just like on sale day, I found myself holding my breath as our veterinarian checked each cow.
Spoiler alert, all our cows were bred this year including our one heifer that Justin gifted me last Christmas. I accidentally caught myself sighing in relief as the last cow entered the chute and the vet yelled out “Good!” meaning she was bred. At that point, I realized how much tension I had in my shoulders throughout the whole process.
What Preg Checking Cows Means
For a traditional cow-calf producer, a production cycle is around 2 years and starts when their cows are bred. And this might be confusing because at the same time these cows are bred, they also have the prior year’s calf at their side…
But let’s back up to the start. When the bull’s get thrown out with the cow, that’s when the cycle starts. Throughout the year, that producer has to make sure the cow is receiving adequate nutrition in order to support herself and the calf. Then, preg check day comes and that producer finds out just how well his bulls did at breeding his cows. This prepares the producer for the next season, calving.
That producer then prepares for each cow to calf at the appropriate time and puts large efforts into making sure that calf hits the ground and is well cared for. They plan for how many and what shots they will give to take care of the calf. They plan for expenses and when they will plan to wean the calf from it’s mother. And they will be watching the markets for when may be the best time to market the calf.
What Happens with Open Cows?
When a cow is open, it really means that she wasn’t bred during breeding season or currently is not pregnant. There’s basically two options for the producer here. Either he can hold on to the cow and try to breed her in the next season available. This can be a fall calving season or the next spring depending on how a producers is set up on his operation. Or, the producer will market the cow, likely at a local sale barn.
Why would a producer market an open cow?
An open cow isn’t going to produce a calf that year. The calf is what brings in the money to help feed and keep that cow. If she isn’t bred, the cow is only going to be costing that producer money without any hope of repayment. Housing and feed isn’t free! If the cow goes to market, they will gain value back from her. She also won’t be further increasing her cost to keep.
Buying back bred cows
Now, let’s say they market the open cow. The producer now has cash in their pocket from that cow. Essentially, they could go ahead and purchase a bred cow to replace the open one and then get a calf.
Typically, a switch of one isn’t realistic because bred cows/heifers are sold in larger groups. If a producer has a good number of opens, it may be beneficial to them to sell the opens and buy back bred cows. Not only can it help even out their balance sheet, but it also helps keep your herd at a certain number. This is usually something that producers strive for.
Preg checking cows – When?
The sooner, the better when it comes to preg-checking cows. Why? Well, the sooner you know the status of your herd, you can make judgement calls on how you are going to respond. If you know you have a good number of cows open, you can market them as soon as possible (depending on if they still have a calf on them) and decrease your feed bill for a few months. Then, theoretically you could buy back breds closer to calving season.
The soonest you can preg check your herd during the cows’ ~ 9-month gestation period is about 30 days using ultrasound. I would guess that most producers wait until palpation can be used by a vet. Using the palpation method, you would want to wait until 40-50 days after the last cow could possibly have been bred. So just over a month.
The one factor to keep in mind… if you preg check a cow and she’s bred, that doesn’t mean she won’t abort the calf sometime throughout the rest of the pregnancy. No one wants this to happen, but in some cases it does still occur. This is why some producers wait a bit longer to preg-check their cows, to know that the pregnancy is stable and decrease the likelihood that the cow will come up open if she was bred initially.
It’s personal preference really and may largely depend on how tight your balance sheet is.
Can you preg check your cows yourself?
Theoretically, you could preg check your cows yourself if you are trained on how to do so. If you plan to just have your cows within your herd and you don’t plan on selling any bred cows as bred cows at the sale barn, then this would be an option. However there’s two things to consider…
If you plan to sell bred cows at the sale barn and market them as bred, usually it’s best to have a veterinarian guarantee them as bred. This adds value to any possible buyers and will usually help you obtain the best price for your valuable animals.
If you aren’t super confident in your preg checking skills, it may be wise to invest in paying a veterinarian to check your herd. Just one missed open cow can cost you a good chunk of money that can affect your bottom dollar. And for every missed open cow, you multiply that number. You can easily save yourself a lot of time and money by simply have a guaranteed answer with a veterinarian when you aren’t able to accurately tell.
Since your cows are already in the chute, it’s a good idea to combine tasks. Instead of just preg checking cows, you can also give them a round of shots and any other tasks for their health. It’s a good idea to talk with your veterinarian about a good combination to give your herd at this time as it will vary with issues you’re trying to prevent and
We poured our cows with Clean- Up II this year to help with any possible lice or parasite issues they may have had. We also gave a de-wormer to hopefully prevent any other intestinal issues. The ladies also received a scours vaccine that was directed more towards the calf. By giving this shot, we can hopefully get some antibodies into the cows colostrum that will be transferred to the calf after birth. The cows’ final shot they received was their pre-breeding. This can also be given closer to pasture turnout. However, if we can, we like to give this a preg-check.
It’s important in a well-managed herd
Preg checking is an important practice in a well-managed herd and not something to be put on the back burner. Make this a priority and your balance sheet will be sure to reflect your choices based upon what you learn.
It’s perhaps even more important to start up producers who may have a smaller herd as even smaller numbers can make a big difference!