25th February 2019
It is late-February and we have been doing plenty of preg-testing for the past 8 weeks or so and thought that we would try and provide a snap shot of how the results have been panning out and our thoughts on these…
We have found that many producers are preg-testing earlier than they normally would, due to a combination of most having already weaned late last year and the poor season pressing people to offload stock where they can. One big difference from previous years is the sharp drop in heifers preg-tested with many producers having already sold them rather than retaining them to join.
The overall results have been greatly mixed – from a handful of disasters, through many in the 60-80% range to some who have managed to maintain 90%+ conception rates. A couple of broader trends that have really stood out include:
- Impact of early weaning – those cows that had calves weaned in Oct/Nov last year have generally had much better conception results. In many herds we have found a huge grouping of conceptions in the 2-4 week post weaning period. A typical situation we have found is… cows joined start of October and calves weaned in mid-October with only a handful of conceptions in October and the bulk of them in November. This has still been enough for many herds to have a 90% conception rate within a 9 week joining. In many of these herds if the calves had not been weaned until after joining, we feel the conception rates would have been severely reduced if kept to the standard joining period.
The impact of early weaning seems to have over-ridden the impact of condition score on conception rates in many herds. We have seen a tendency in herds with un-weaned calves that even when the cows have looked in good order, the pregnancy rates have been 10-15% lower than we would have expected. Conversely, in mobs of cows that had calves weaned last year, we have been pleasantly surprised at the results even when the cows have been in lighter than ideal condition.
- Impact of body condition – with unprecedented drought conditions over the past 18 months there have been many tough decisions to be made in regards to whether to feed/how much to feed/whether to sell stock/etc. This has been made all the more difficult in the face of record fodder prices for much of last year and as such there has been a huge variation in how producers have aimed to get through the drought. What we have seen with the preg-testing results to this point is that those cows that were maintained in good body condition through last winter, into calving and through joining have joined up again well with those herds typically achieving their standard pregnancy rates. Those cows that were let slip in body condition leading up to and through calving have really felt the effects in the joining period with many pregnancy rates in the 50-80% range.
- Saleability of empty cows – we have found that one of the key benefits of the early weaning process is the ability of the cows to put some condition on in the past few months with the small amount of feed from summer storms. This has not only lead to improved conception rates but has added to the saleability of those empty cows and other culls at this point in time. In several situations we have had excess numbers of empty cows due to their lighter condition, however these animals have been difficult to sell in this environment and producers have often been forced to accept minimal prices just to off-load some stock. With the extra condition gained from early weaning (or from supplementary feeding), many cows are still worth $900-1200 which greatly helps cash flow, especially if considering purchasing more feed.
- Identifying late calvers – following on from a previous newsletter regarding joining periods in dry years, many producers have opted to keep the bulls in for longer. This has ranged from extending a 9 week joining to 12 weeks or even to keeping bulls in until preg-testing time. This has proved beneficial in several herds as a risk mitigation tool with poor results within the normal joining period but a big rush in the following 3-6 weeks. In these cases we have been able to identify those later conceptions at preg-testing time. Generally they are identified and left with the pregnants for the time being, however if at any stage in the next several months numbers need to be further reduced then these will be the first to go. This at least gives us some positive upside of tightening the joining period in amongst the difficulties of the drought.
Overall, we have found that early weaning has been of enormous benefit to many producers and has been the over-riding factor in subsequent conception rates. It is something that we see becoming a regular management tool, especially in years such as the present.
Pregnancy testing is a vital management tool to identify and get rid of non-productive stock and in most instances provides a marked return on investment. This is magnified in a season such as this where we can little afford to run non-productive stock. The following is a rough financial analysis of the benefits of early and accurate pregnancy diagnosis based on a herd of 100 cows which would cost $365 to preg-test:
- Every empty cow costs roughly $10/week to run with no way of earning her keep
- Working on an average of 90% conception rates we end up with 10 empty cows = $100/week to run these empties
- If no preg-testing is carried out then these animals will not be identified for a further 6 months at least = 26 weeks @ $100/week = $2600 – In this instance preg-testing these animals now would give a return on investment of 700%. Even at conception rates of 98%, the cost of running the empty cows is more than the cost of preg-testing.
- If preg-testing is carried out 4 weeks earlier than normal (note calves are already weaned and cows are able to be sold immediately or at least booked into processers) then we are saving $40/empty cow = $400 – In this instance the savings are still greater than the costs of preg-testing.
Whilst the above costings are rough, it still highlights the large amount of money that can be saved by preg-testing. This is before we take into account several other factors such as:
- Identification of health issues such as pyometras which may indicate presence of reproductive diseases like Tritrichomoniasis
- Ability to add further value by identifying/drafting off later calvers for future decision making
- Free veterinary input and advice
For any further information or advice please do not hesitate to call the clinics to discuss further.