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What's the Value of Pregnancy Testing Beef Cows?

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According to the Agricultural Census, there are 37,000 cow-calf producers operating in Noble's Oklahoma and Texas service area. Operation sizes vary from cow herds as small as 10 head to as large as 4,500 head. Regardless of the size of the herd, how well a producer manages his or her herd is crucial for the long-term survival of their business. There are several components to a successful cow-calf management strategy among them should be an effective strategy for culling unproductive cows from the herd.

A recent survey of cattle producers in the region reported that only 14 percent of producers who manage fewer than 100 head of cows use pregnancy testing on the cows they own, and only about 25 percent of them use pregnancy testing on their raised heifers. Of the producers who have herd sizes larger than 100 head, only about 33 percent of them use pregnancy testing services for the cows they own and only 53 percent used testing services for the heifers they raised. The findings from the survey provide the impetus for demonstrating to producers via economic analysis the need for increased adoption of pregnancy testing and an effective culling practice for open beef cows.

In 1998, a culling management strategy was initiated on a group of 30 head of spring calving, three- to six-year-old bred cows of Angus, Brahman and Simmental inheritance. Between 1998 and 2001, open cows were determined via pregnancy testing in the fall and sold promptly thereafter. Prior to project implementation in fall 2000, a comparison group of 35 head of Angus, Hereford or Angus/Hereford cross-bred two-year-old heifers were purchased directly from a local producer. These cattle were selected to represent a typical set of English-influenced heifers for the region. The final herd used in the study consisted of 27 mature cows with an average age of seven years, and 35 two-year-old cows for a total of 62 cows. During the three-year study (2001-2004), no cows from either group were culled unless they died or displayed chronic unacceptable infirmities (e.g., broken leg). All 62 cows were exposed to three full-sibling Angus bulls for 60 days from June 1 to August 1 of each year, and similar management practices were used for all three years of the study.

The value of pregnancy testing was defined as the difference between average net return per cow from the mature group and the average net return per cow from the younger group. Gross revenue for each cow was given by actual calf carcass values paid via a retained feed yard ownership program. Variable expenses included the costs for mineral, supplemental feed, hay for cows and bulls, pregnancy testing services, veterinary products for cows and bulls, machine hire/lease, pasture rent, pasture maintenance expenses (i.e., seed, custom hire and fertilizer), labor, miscellaneous expenses and the opportunity cost of the investment. Fixed costs include depreciation and interest for mature cows, young cows, bulls (sires), calf scales and computer software used to keep track of the data and analysis.

The value of pregnancy testing, on average, was equal to $77 per cow. Over the three years of the study, the average total cost of keeping open cows in the young herd was equal to $4,988, while the average total cost of keeping open cows in the mature group was only $1,239, a difference of $3,749. This information indicates that the older, mature group of cows that were managed using pregnancy testing services and an effective culling strategy was more productive, and economical, than the cows in the younger group that had not been subjected to a culling protocol.