Before we knew it, THAT time was upon us again. Our 60-day breeding season had come and gone in the blink of an eye and it was time for us to answer the question that had been looming over our heads all summer – are they pregnant?! They, of course, being our 20 cows.
We leased a red Angus bull (known for calving ease calves) for our breeding season this year, and we witnessed many of our cows and first-year heifers being bred by him over the course of the season.
That being said, though, there were no guarantees that we would have viable pregnancies. In addition, we had a good handful of cows with no observed breeding but for almost all of them, though, we did at least observe signs of estrus or cycling. We were cautiously optimistic!
Our breeding season this year was especially important and critical to the success of our operation as half of our herd were actively nursing their calves – their first ever calves – during the breeding season. First-calf heifers are notorious for not breeding back. After ensuing the demands of a first-time labor and delivery and then, nursing that calf for months on end, some of these cows simply never regain the body condition needed to resume estrus.
In our herd, we had a few momma cows struggling to maintain a good body condition while still nursing.
In addition, we encountered an especially dry summer for our region, with grass regrowth and quality not on par with previous years.
Our momma cows were being tested in a very big way this past summer. Could they maintain the body condition needed to provide milk for their calves AND be bred back all the while grazing -at times- on lower quality pastures? It was the question that loomed over our heads all summer and quite honestly, right up to the day we found out who was pregnant and who was open. As you can see in the picture above, we did not have a 100% pregnancy rate.
With last year being our very first year to have cows pregnancy checked, we went the traditional way and had our vet come to our farm and do pregnancy checks on our 10 cows.
This year, though, we had 20 animals to test for pregnancy, and we felt it would be more cost-effective for us to draw a blood sample from each cow and have it tested for pregnancy. We learned that a company called BioTracking (www.biotracking.com) developed a pregnancy blood test for cattle called BioPRYN, which is performed by cooperating labs across the country. This option was very appealing to us not only for financial reasons but also for time reasons. Jer and I could do this together and we did not have to try to work around our vet’s schedule or risk having the weather bad on the day the vet comes. We could make the decision on relatively short notice, depending on the weather and how we ourselves were feeling and if we felt ready one morning or afternoon, we could simply round up the girls and get it done.
We knew that we wanted to do pregnancy checks via a blood sample but we needed to find a laboratory that would test the samples for pregnancy at a reasonable rate and time-frame. We did some research and discovered that the closest lab to us that did the BioPRYN test was the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. As we quickly learned, the process in which the lab uses to determine pregnancy via blood is very straightforward. The lab simply tests for the presence of PSP-B (pregnancy specific protein-B), which is produced by the placenta, in the cow’s blood. The heifer/cow you are pregnancy testing must be at least 28 days post-breeding and 73 days post-calving. The cost of the pregnancy test is $2.50/sample. We ordered a sample kit, which included 50 tubes and 50 needles and needle holders. The cost of this kit was $34.50 (shipping included).
We ordered the kit while our breeding season was still active. After the kit arrived, we placed the box on the shelf in our office and we waited and waited and waited. We waited until November 11th to be exact. We were getting hit with some seriously early winter weather (1st snowstorm was on the 1st of November) combined with some mild days and our grounds were a sloppy, muddy mess.
The morning of November 11th was a calm one with the ground frozen and no wind, no snow and no rain; the temperatures were definitely bearable to be working cattle through the chute. Jer had the day off as it was a holiday and we were expecting another snowstorm soon. All signs seemed to indicate that today was THE DAY. The timing worked out really well for us because my mom was visiting from Montana and she was able to watch our little boy so the two of us could focus 100% on the task at hand – getting our 20 girls, one-by-one, down the alleyway, into the chute, locked in the headgate and a vial of blood drawn. If my mom had not been visiting during this time, I would have simply worn our son in the backpack or we would have scheduled our work around his naptime.
Jer and I worked together that morning and in less than 2 hours, we had worked each of our 20 cows through our alley/chute/headgate and had 20 samples of blood. The blood was drawn from underneath the cow’s tail. In some cases, Jer was only able to pull a tiny amount of blood and we were very nervous that the sample would not be enough for the test. In other cases, he pulled a bit too much blood (hit a vein) but this was a learning experience and our very first time doing something like this. By the last 10 cows, Jer was quickly becoming an old pro at drawing blood. Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures from that morning as I was 100% occupied with my task of keeping everyone in line and staying in the alleyway.
With our 20 cows happily back in their pasture and our work area cleaned up, we really wanted to get the blood samples in the mail ASAP. The lab only does bovine pregnancy testing on Mondays and Thursdays and we wanted our samples to be at the lab for the Thursday testing. Jer rushed to town and shipped our samples via FedEx to the lab in New Hampshire. I called the lab on Thursday morning and they had just received our blood samples and would be testing shortly thereafter. The lady on the phone told me to expect our pregnancy results via email by noon the next day. We were so nervous!!! As it was, Jer ended up being in the field all the next day and the results were sent to his email. My mom and I spent the whole day wondering and wondering and wondering. By 5:30pm, I was beside myself with what the results were. Jer arrived home and we quickly found out that 19 of our 20 cows were pregnant! The one open cow was not a big surprise as we never did observe her cycling after having her calf.
Needless to say, we were relieved, elated and anxious for another calving season!
Calving season 2015, here we come! We pray for 19 healthy, red Angus baby calves.