Pregnancy testing your herd gives you the power to make informed decisions much earlier in the production cycle. It means you aren’t wasting valuable feed on cows that won’t be calving, but that’s just one of the gains.
Six reasons for pregnancy testing cattle
Reduce calving spread by identifying late calving cows, which you can sell as confirmed pregnant.
Improve grazing management by calculating the nutritional needs of cattle ahead of time.
Identify and manage reproductive diseases that lead to failure to join.
Improve animal welfare by monitoring cows as their predicted calving date approaches and ensuring they aren’t transported when heavily pregnant.
Improve herd fertility by culling appropriate animals.
Gain access to markets that require cattle to be certified non-pregnant by a veterinarian.
When should you pregnancy test?
The best time to pregnancy test varies depending on the type of testing you use and the production system you run. For northern cattle producers, it can be convenient to pregnancy test when stocks are mustered for weaning.
The information you want to gain from testing – whether it’s simply pregnancy status or a predicted calving date – will also influence the timing. It pays to talk to your veterinarian about the services they offer, especially in relation to foetal aging, when deciding the best time to pregnancy test your cattle. AgriWebb’s Operational Planner will also suggest optimum scanning dates when you record your joining dates.
Types of pregnancy tests
Rectal palpation – checking a cow’s reproductive tract through the rectal wall – is the simplest and cheapest form of pregnancy testing, with the most reliable results. While producers can learn the technique themselves, a skilled operator will be able to diagnose pregnancy as early as 35 days and age the foetus to within two weeks for up to 65 days.
Operators perform ultrasound pregnancy scans by inserting a probe into the cow’s rectum and scanning the embryo with soundwaves to produce a black and white image of the foetus. Pregnancy can be detected as early as 20 days, though testing so soon is risky; the procedure can be done more safely 28 days after conception. Late in pregnancy, the technique is less reliable than rectal palpation. Many vets will use ultrasound and, if a cow appears empty, confirm the diagnosis through palpation.
There is a range of milk and blood tests available for pregnancy diagnosis, with a variety of detections windows and differing guarantees regarding accuracy. While these tests are less invasive than other methods, they won’t detect problems with a foetus or a cow, or predict calving date. There is also the inconvenience of waiting for results, which means you can’t draft cattle on the spot according to their diagnosis.
The importance of quality pregnancy testing
Regulations vary between states and territories as to who can conduct pregnancy tests for payment. Regardless of whether you use a veterinarian or a lay pregnancy tester to check your herd, look for an operator who comes with good references.
Both ultrasound scans and palpation are invasive procedures. With inexperienced or careless operators, there is a risk of injury or infection, to both the calf and cow.
For peace of mind, you may consider using a vet accredited through the Australian Cattle Veterinarians’ (ACV) PREgCHECK National Cattle Pregnancy Diagnosis scheme. Vets must perform over 2000 pregnancy tests and have over 99 per cent accuracy to gain accreditation.
The scheme underpins a nationally recognised tail tagging system for identification and certification of cattle pregnancy status, particularly for sale purposes.
Recording pregnancy test results
To ensure the time and money invested in pregnancy testing pays off, you to record the results in a reliable place. This can easily be done in the paddock, with AgriWebb. That data becomes more powerful when it’s combined with fertility records such as joining, marking and weaning numbers.
Farmers keeping records through AgriWebb can access automatically generated Fertility Reports. These detailed reports help you assess how you’re tracking across the season. Once you accrue data over a few seasons, you’ll see how your natural increase is going, year on year.
This gives you valuable insights on where you can improve fertility, across the herd and on a mob-by-mob basis. You can also use AgriWebb’s Operational Planner, which offers suggestions on how to improve farm management with region-specific recommendations.