Our last few posts have been bouncing back and forth between our current calving season and our breeding season last summer. Today, we bridge that gap a bit with a post on what we like to call “Is that Heifer Really Pregnant? – aka Pregnancy Checks.”
Check out our past Breeding and Calving posts below:
Our last post in our Cattle Breeding series found us nearing the end of our 60-day breeding season, wondering if all 10 of our heifers really were pregnant. From our observation sessions, we felt reasonably certain that eight of our 10 heifers had been bred. If not for those sessions, we really would have had very little clue as to what occurred during those 60 days. Our time spent with the herd and the observations that we recorded did (and continue to) provide priceless insight into the dynamics of our herd and all it costs us is a bit of our time…..
As we neared mid-September, our breeding season was coming to a close and we had winter on the mind. Specifically, we were coordinating our winter hay supply and putting together our winter hay bale grazing strategy. In the course of sorting through the logistics and crunching the numbers, it became increasingly evident that we simply could not afford – financially and otherwise – to carry open heifers through the winter. If one of our 10 heifers was not pregnant, she would be on the truck come Fall.
Since we had very little experience with pregnancy checking, we contacted our veterinarian, Dr. Simon Alexander of Exeter Veterinary Services to schedule a pregnancy check for all 10 heifers. We scheduled for Dr. Alexander to visit our farm in mid-November; he would conduct the pregnancy checks and we would also administer several vaccines at that time.
That gave us roughly two months to prepare for the visit. Roughly two months to figure out how exactly we were going to restrain these heifers in order for them to get pregnancy checked and to get their shots! The vet sure wasn’t going to be able to walk out to the pasture and simply “check” them where they stood! If only. Ha! If you remember our post where we talked about our lack of a tractor?? Well, we also lacked a holding pen with an alleyway and a squeeze chute with a headgate. These are items that we were fully aware we would need in order to work our herd – no mater if the herd is 10 animals or 100. When you work with large livestock, like cattle, you need a safe working environment for both you, the animal and your veterinarian.
While we would LOVE to have an alley and sweep system with a connected squeeze chute and head gate, we are far, oh so far, from ever being able to afford that system. That is the dream. So, keeping with having an open-mind and being able to be innovative, creative and flexible – on a fixed budget – we came up with an alternative. A very labor intensive alternative for Jeremiah but one we were confident he could accomplish.
Jeremiah was going to build our very own version of an alley and sweep system. At some point Jeremiah will write a post on his adventure in building our very own alley and sweep system. For now, suffice to say, this project ended up being a huge, monumental undertaking and it would consume every free second he had for those two months but the final product was so entirely worth it. I was so incredibly proud of what Jeremiah accomplished. The entire structure was built with wood he cut from our property and milled on our sawmill. Once all the wood was cut, he spent night after night, well past the sun set, putting the whole system together, nail by nail. It was unbelievable what he created.
With the completion of our alley and sweep system, we could check-off on one very critical component to our system. We still needed sort sort of squeeze chute and/or headgate to attach to our alley and sweep system. While we don’t live in a part of the country known for beef cattle, beef cattle farmers are here in northern Maine and they band together when a fellow farmer needs help.
We were able to borrow a portable livestock scale with a headgate and squeeze.
Our system was now complete.
We were ready for our vet visit and…….
to discover the fate of our herd and our entire operation.
We constantly spoke of all of the what if’s that could happen during our vet visit; most notably, we feared that one after one, our vet would announce “Not pregnant”, until all 10 were deemed open at which time we would probably assume the fetal position and cry. A LOT was riding on these pregnancy checks. Our operation could end before it really even started. That was a very real fear for us. Jeremiah and I lean towards more of a proactive approach, and we do not shy away from a bit of risk. We took a leap of faith with breeding 10 heifers to a yearling, unproven, bull.
We were about to find out if our leap of faith would produce rewards or sad, sad tears.
The day had finally arrived and Dr. Alexander was here, about to climb into the chute and pregnancy check our first heifer. Ironically, the first heifer in line was UL220. She is our youngest heifer and she ended up being our first heifer to have her calf this spring.
That first pregnancy check was a very big positive, literally and figuratively.
One by one, each heifer was guided into the squeeze chute, pregnancy checked and then given their vaccinations.
Each heifer was given three vaccinations: 1) Decotmax for parasites, 2) MultiMin90 as a mineral supplement and 3) Bovi-Shield Gold 5 for a range of respiratory diseases.
My responsibilities during this time were to document the event, with both written and visual records, and watch our 9-month old son. So, I strapped our son to my back, grabbed my notebook, pencil and camera, and I was good to go!
Jeremiah assisted in administrating the vaccinations as well as operating the headgate and keeping the entire operation running smoothly and safely.
Our good friend, Derrick, assisted with encouraging the heifers to work through the alleyway, into the squeeze chute.
All of our fears of the vet yelling out “Not pregnant” were quickly stomped out when one after one, our vet called out “Pregnant!”.
Folks, we had 10 pregnant heifers!! 100% pregnancy rate. We probably still would have curled up in the fetal position and cried – for joy – if we had thought of it.
We celebrated by getting a pizza, uploading pictures and transferring our notes from that night to our computer!
We were certainly not in the safe yet, though. We needed 10 live and healthy calves on the ground in the spring. The hard work was starting, we needed to get these pregnant heifers and their unborn calves through a northern Maine winter!