Successful cattle producers have long recognized that fall is the time to pregnancy check cows before they get into the high maintenance costs of winter. It just doesn’t make sense to put hundreds of dollars worth of feed, pasture, interest, health care, and labor into a cow that is not going to bring home a paycheck next year. This is even more critical in these times of high feed, fertilizer, fuel, and labor costs. If that cow isn’t going to produce, why not replace her with one that will have a calf in the spring or save her part of your winter costs? Not only is now a good time to cull open cows before you spend the winter expenses, but they are probably in the best body condition and weight they will be in until the middle of next summer. A good theory is that every cow must bring in a check every year, either by selling her calf or selling herself. Far too many small to midsized cattle producers are saving pennies by not pregnancy testing while wasting dollars by not knowing which cows are open. Today, every beef producer has a choice of how to pregnancy check their cows.
The old standby for pregnancy checking is rectal palpation. In this procedure the veterinarian enters through the rectum and palpates the reproductive tract through the rectal wall. This should be done by an experienced food animal veterinarian. Although prices vary from one area to another and from one clinic to the next, it should run about $3.50 to $4.50 per cow, depending on how many you have done. The accuracy of the test depends on the experience of the operator. One advantage is that the diagnosis is made immediately at chute side allowing the open cows to be marked or sorted off while they are gathered. When this procedure is done by an experienced veterinarian it is fast, accurate, and reasonably inexpensive. Your veterinarian will also occasionally identify cows with reproductive tract problems or heifers with small pelvis size leading to calving difficulty. This allows you to cull these individuals before they become even greater problems for you.
A newer technique is ultrasound pregnancy testing. This requires much more in equipment and training and not all food animal veterinarians employ this technique. The veterinarian inserts a slender probe with an ultrasound transducer on the end into the cow’s rectum allowing the operator to “see” the reproductive tract on an ultrasound screen. Again, cost varies with area, operator, and number of cows, but typically is about $10.00 per cow. Like rectal palpation, a chief advantage is that the diagnosis is immediate, eliminating the need to re-gather the cows to sort off the open individuals. Ultrasound will detect earlier pregnancies than most operators can detect confidently by rectal palpation and also may show pathological conditions that rectal palpation may miss.