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Preg Checking the Girls

How do you know when a cow is expecting?  Well, she won't pee in a cup for you! Our large animal vet, Dr. Dane Jacobsen, showed us what it takes this fall and why it's so important to assess for pregnancy in cows.  It helps if you have long arms like him and a lot of lubricant.

I recently had a visitor ask me this question:

Can you give me some information re: palpating?  We are trying to learn and are still not sure what we are feeling for or of?  If not can you direct me to a book I can purchase for a referral source or self teaching tool?  We have been trying on some of our herd, yet are just not sure what's there?

I really don't have a lot of information on palpating pregnant cows as we have our veterinarian, Dr. Dane Jacobsen of Wamego, Kansas do it for us. We don't know what to feel for either!  From observing him, I can tell you what happens. 

First, we put the cow in a head gate/squeeze chute.  He puts on an OB sleeve, lubes it up good and inserts his sleeved arm into the cows rectum and feels for the top of the uterus, which is called the uterine fundus.  Based upon the size of the uterus, he can estimate how far along the cow is in pregnancy and whether or not she is pregnant or not.  This, along with observing any breeding activity has helped us with calculating due dates.  He worked with large numbers of cattle in the Valentine, Nebraska area for several years before returning to his hometown of Wamego, Kansas.  Anyway, I trust his experience as it has been quite helpful this calving season for calculating due dates and deciding which cows to sell. 

From the research we have done, pregnancy checking cows is one of the most cost-effective procedures a veterinarian can do for beef cow-calf clients.  Surveys of beef producers also rank pregnancy checking as one of the most important services the veterinarian can perform.

When the cost to pregnancy check a cow (national surveys show an average of $3-6/head) is compared to the average cost of wintering a cow (average $200), it is quite easy to see that pregnancy checking cows and culling open cows is a huge cost saver.

In a herd of 25 cows, it only costs $75 - $150 to check all 25 cows for pregnancy status. If only one open cow is found, the net profit to the producer is $50 - $125 in feed savings alone. In fact, work in commercial herds has shown that if a cow goes a year without having a calf, it takes her the next six years of her life to make up for the profit lost by missing this one calf. This is assuming she then calves on a yearly interval for the next six years.

If you calve in the spring like we do (March 1 - May 5), your veterinarian will likely want to pregnancy check your cows around September 10. This will ensure that all cows are at least 45 days pregnant at the time of palpation. The other benefit to palpating cows early in the fall is that open cows can go to market before the cull cow market typically drops in November - December. Take a minute today to call your herd health veterinarian and schedule an appointment to pregnancy check your cows this fall.  If you want to learn how to do it yourself, have your vet show you how to do it.

Here is a good online resource about Bovine Rectal Palpation

I hope you find this information helpful!