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Should you preg check your cows?

News Roundup from the May 2017 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

Really, should you preg check? That’s a question almost everyone in the cow business faces every fall. The advice from governments and veterinarians is generally yes, you should find out if the cows you are going to carry through the winter will give you a calf at the end of it.

So why did 50 and 40 per cent of producers answer no to this question when it was put to them in sizable surveys on cow-calf management practices back in 1997-98 and 2013? The answer is, it depends on your feed costs this fall, the price for cull cows, your vet fees and a raft of other factors that play into each family’s operating plan at the time.

There are a number of options. The big three are: preg check and cull the opens; preg check and feed the opens with the view of selling them in the new year when prices are generally higher; save on the preg check fees and cull the opens after calving season.

Before you get into thinking too deeply about those choices you might want to look up a new factsheet ‘The Economics of Preg Checking‘ by the analysts at Canfax Research Services (sponsored by Merial). It can be found at canfax.ca/FactSheets.aspx.

As they work through the decision, they made use of an economic model developed in 2015 by two University of Saskatchewan veterinarians who were working on their masters in business administration and a preg-checking calculator available on the Beef Cattle Research Council website.

The factsheet offers seven conclusions:

  • The higher your feed and overwintering costs the more favourable it is for preg-checking and culling cows in the fall.
  • Lower ADG favours preg-checking and fall culling.
  • While you may have low feed costs which make it look like it would be attractive to feed and sell in the spring, a minimal average daily gain on those animals offsets some of the advantage.
  • If cull cow prices drop to pre-2012 levels (below 75¢/lb.) the cost of overwintering begins to outweigh the benefits of selling heavier culls in the spring.
  • Higher cull cow prices favour overwintering. Lower prices encourage preg-checking.
  • Cow value is often a more important factor in the economics of preg-checking than either overwintering or veterinary costs. As cow prices have increased annually over the last decade, from 2003, preg-checking has not been economically beneficial and producers have seen the greatest benefit from overwintering cattle and selling at the higher price.
  • Declining prices encourage preg-checking and increasing prices discourage preg-checking.

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