In order to run an efficient operation, cow-calf producers must know the production status of their cow herd. One basic step is pregnancy checking so the right management decisions can be made on individual cows, such as whether they get to remain in the cow herd or be culled.

There are three ways for producers to pregnancy check their cow herd, says Bryan Nichols of The Samuel Roberts Nobel Foundation:

  1. Rectal palpation. At 45 to 60 days post-breeding, this method allows producers to have immediate results while the cow is standing in the chute. The biggest drawback, Nichols says, is human error can come into play based on the skill level of the technician.
  2. Ultrasound. Another option for producers wanting immediate results is ultrasound. This method offers high accuracy readings at 28 to 35 days-post breeding. Technicians can also determine the sex of the calf based off the ultrasound. There is some additional cost for the technician and technology.
  3. Blood test. According to Nichols, blood tests are highly accurate—with a 99% detection of open females and 95% detection of bred females. Tests must be taken at least 28 days post-breeding, he says, and at least 75 days post-calving. Females can’t be sorted out right from the chute because the tests often take at least a couple of days to be processed. However, collecting samples requires little training and can be done by producers themselves. This process works best if producers use an adequate individual identification system for females, so open cows can accurately be found and sorted out from the group when the test results are returned.