According to past studies only one fifth of cow/calf producers have their cows checked for pregnancy although the benefits easily outweigh the cost.
The most obvious benefit of knowing which cows are open is cost savings. A pregnancy examination cost is minimal per head but carrying an open cow over the winter may cost several hundred dollars to maintain a cow in hay alone (not to mention mineral, supplemental feed, vaccines, and dewormers that add additional carrying costs). Knowing who to sell allows one to make good marketing decisions such as:
1. Weaning calves early and selling culls when the cull market is high
2. Selling open heifers when they are younger and still fit the feeder market
3. Sorting off and feeding thin cows to bring a higher price and sell more pounds
Beyond the marketing aspects, pregnancy checking can be a tremendous decision making tool. Cows can be grouped into early or late season calvers and fed accordingly. Pregnancy exams are also important for the measurement of herd health and reproductive status. More open cows than expected (more than 5% open at pregnancy check) may indicate an abortion problem caused by an infectious organism such as the IBR or BVD viruses. It could also be an indicator of a sexually transmissible disease such as vibriosis or trichomoniasis. Nutritional deficiencies including a lack of energy, trace minerals, and/or protein may delay estrus and conception due to poor egg development and subsequent ovulation, resulting in open cows. Occasionally damage to the reproductive tract due to a difficult birth may result in a cow that will not breed back. Infertile bulls may be discovered at pregnancy checking time although hopefully too many cows regularly returning to heat would be noticed prior to the end of breeding season. However, in a herd observed infrequently or in a far off pasture, bull problems can easily be missed. Animals that are detected open early can then be immediately returned to aggressive breeding programs using other reproductive technologies.
Ulysses Veterinary Hospital utilizes both rectal palpation and ultrasound to determine pregnancy status. Rectal palpation performed by an experienced veterinarian can estimate the approximate stage of pregnancy and can be detected 40 days after breeding. Ultrasound can detect pregnancy earlier than palpation, around day 32. It can provide more detailed information such as viability of the fetus, and presence of twins.