Checking whether cows are pregnant and culling the nonpregnant females before the winter feeding period can save producers 60 to 70 percent of their yearly beef cow maintenance expenses, according to North Dakota State University Extension Service livestock experts.
"Pregnancy checking also opens many doors for producers to manage their herds strategically," says Extension beef cattle specialist Carl Dahlen.
Make an extra $94 per cow
If you preg check in September, you can sell open cows before the seasonal rush, which usually occurs in November. The difference between selling in September and November has been about $7 per hundredweight, or $94.50 per female marketed.
Sell into "white fat" markets
Rather than marketing open cowsimmediately, you can place cull cows on high-concentrate feedlot diets for 60 to 90 days to target "white fat" cow markets. "White fat" cows are fed grain for a period before they are sold, resulting in meat cuts with white fat.
Tweak plans for next year
Work with a veterinarian to analyze the age of the fetus when you preg check. Then you can identify late-bred females and consider marketing them as pregnant cows. Removing late-bred cows from the herd will have a similar effect as removing the bulls after a defined breeding season. If pregnancy checking reveals a large number of females that are late-bred, compare the option of calving them later the following year with the option of calving fewer cows.
When you preg check cows, score their body condition score and make grazing or feeding decisions based on those scores. If enough pens or pastures are available consider grouping females by body condition and managing thin cows to gain condition and other cows to maintain body condition. Considering age when grouping cows also can be beneficial to reduce the likelihood that dominant females will push young cows/heifers or older cows away from feed. In addition, removing open cows from pastures before cows are moved to winter feeding areas may give the remaining pregnant cows more access to feed and a greater chance to regain body condition.
Cows also can be sorted into anticipated calving groups based on findings from the pregnancy checking. The best way to accomplish this is through an early pregnancy diagnosis. With the proper records, females can be placed into groups based on expected calving day to help concentrate calving labor on groups of females with the highest likelihood of calving in the immediate future.
Alternatives to relying on individual cow records to create calving groups include using different color ear tags for each of the anticipated calving groups or strategically bleaching the hair of dark-hided cattle. Bleaching with different numbers, marks or marking patterns (vertical, horizontal) or in different locations (front shoulder, ribs, hip) to identify different calving groups provides a very quick indication of anticipated calving date, even if all cows are maintained in a single group.
"Pregnancy checking can be a valuable strategy if the resultant information is used to make decisions that turn into action," Dahlen says.