With moisture levels below average in much of South Dakota, cattle producers may find results from pregnancy checking their herd useful in making management decisions moving forward, said Taylor Grussing, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist.

“Pregnancy testing cows and removing open or even late cows from the herd may preserve valuable feed resources if drought conditions continue,” Grussing said.

Pregnancy Testing Considerations

Although there are costs associated with pregnancy checking, $3 to $8 per head, Grussing urged producers to consider the value this one practice can have on other areas of the cow/calf operation.

“The overall cost of preg testing the herd is still likely less than it will cost to feed open cows throughout the winter,” she said.

To maximize the investment, she recommended producers take advantage of the labor available on the day the herd is pregnancy checked to complete a few more tasks.

Below Grussing outlines a list of tasks to consider:

- Pregnancy check early to determine AI or early bull bred cows from late bred cows, identify twins and plan facilities and labor for the calving season.

- Sort cows into groups to meet nutritional needs. Young heifers and older cows may need to be separated from the rest of the herd to provide more nutrients versus overfeeding the entire herd to increase energy to a few thinner cows.

- Tag cows by calving date so it is easier to identify which cows will calve first come calving season; example: green = February, yellow = March, red = April, etc.

- Check conformation of cows and make note of bad feet, legs, teeth, lumps, body condition score, etc. Use this data to create cow groups that may need to be sold, or have more TLC this winter (Example: take this group to the close pasture with a corral versus trailing them to pasture 5 miles away with no corral).

- Begin winter parasite control and scour vaccine administration.

- Weigh cows if possible. Knowing average weight of cows in the herd can help with designing rations and calculating feed inventory for the winter.

- Compare calf weaning weight to cow weight. If cows are not weaning enough of their body weight, should certain cows be culled?

- Pounds weaned per female exposed is calculated by taking total pounds of weaned calves divided by total cows that were exposed during the breeding season. This value is a key indicator of successful operations. It takes into account weaning weight and reproductive rates. If this number is low, first determine if it is due to poor reproductive rates (breeding, calving) or if is due to genetics or days of age.

- Establish a marketing plan for open, late bred, poor-doers and cows culled for other reasons (attitude, feet, udder, etc.) Determine if the current market is profitable or if cows should be fed until prices go higher. Visit this iGrow.org link to learn more: http://igrow.org/livestock/beef/opportunities-for-open-cows/.

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