Palpation to determine pregnancy is a good management tool, but the practice carries some risks. From a management perspective, it's helpful to confirm cows pregnant, but that is actually a side benefit to learning which animals are not bred. That way they can be managed separately to take make efficient use of feed resources.

But producers should be aware that handling the uterus during the palpation procedure could disrupt uterine membranes or damage the embryo itself. According to research at the University of Idaho and Washington State University, palpation destroyed 2 percent to 3 percent of embryos when it was done 30 to 45 days post-conception. Palpation done at 60 days or later doesn't seem to effect embryo survival.

Additionally, palpation technique is critical. "Too much handling of the uterus can lead to embryo losses," says Garth Sasser, University of Idaho professor emeritus and owner of BioTracking. "Some studies show there is a technician-by-technician difference. We had a low percentage (of embryo loss) because we had one very experienced technician."

Palpation remains the gold standard and yields valuable information. But alternative technologies exist, such as a biochemical pregnancy test that can give accurate pregnancy results at 28 days post-conception. Research also is under way to explore whether ultrasound technologies may provide pregnancy information, without inadvertently eliminating embryos.