Vet's Opinion

Simple Steps To Up Your Cow Herd’s Profitability


Here are some other routine procedures that take very little extra time, and can help you develop a healthier, more productive and profitable cow herd.

Each fall, cattle veterinarians from North America and beyond gather for the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) annual conference. As always, there were many excellent talks at this year’s meeting in Milwaukee to help herd health DVMs stay current on cattle health and production.

One particularly useful talk was a small-group discussion in which 20 of us discussed how we, as herd health DVMs, can help our clients improve herd profitability. The goal of the session was to learn from the collective wisdom of the group, and that mission was accomplished.

A recent National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) report indicated that cows are checked for pregnancy in only 20% of all U.S. beef herds each year. However, NAHMS says 71.7% of large herds (those over 200 cows) undergo preg checks annually. Thus, this means that about 60% of all beef cows in the U.S. are preg-checked each year.

Our AABP discussion group was in agreement that this number is still too low. So, how can we, as DVMs, demonstrate to producers the cost-effectiveness of this routine procedure?

First off, let me say that if your DVM checked your cows and only said “pregnant” or “open” on each of them, and one of every 100 cows was determined as open, then preg-checking cows wouldn’t be a cost-effective endeavor.

 How did I arrive at this conclusion? I figured $750 as the cost of the DVM and farm/ranch labor for the pregnancy exam on 100 cows. An open cow will eat about $300-$400 worth of winter feed. If not culled in the spring, she’ll likely go back with the bull and then consume $150 worth of pasture that should have gone to a cow nursing a calf.

Thus, this cow cost you $450-$550 and returned nothing. This is assuming she is bred next fall, which may not be the case.  Also remember that an open cow is worth about $1,000 as a slaughter animal. Think of the money lost if you have five, 10 or 20 open cows. 


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What if your DVM finds zero open cows? Is it now $750 wasted? It wasn’t wasted if, at the same time, you were checking for bad feet, poor udders, cancer eye, aggressive disposition (remember when you wrote down “sell #61U — tried to take me” in your Redbook this past spring?).

The NAHMS study revealed that the top reason for not preg-checking cows was time and labor. While walking cows through the chute may not be considered “fun,” it’s always beneficial to find the open ones, the late-calvers and the “problem” cattle. In a typical herd, 5%-10% of cows are open, and 1%-5% may be culled for “other” reasons.

So, if 10 of 100 cows are sold before winter, that’s about $5,000 in feed savings, which means your profit is $4,250 for a couple hours of work. I can’t think of many legal endeavors that pay that well!

If you haven’t preg-checked your cows this fall because “it isn’t worth it,” take a look at all the benefits. Hopefully, you’ll see that this is a tool your DVM can use to help you improve profitability.

Here are some other routine procedures that take very little extra time, and can help you develop a healthier, more productive and profitable herd:

  • Improve herd health with deworming, lice control and appropriate vaccinations.
  • For the past 4-5 years, I’ve used a Craftsman® 3-in-1 Accu-Cut tool to trim the hair from the switch so the cows will stay cleaner during winter.
  • Monitor and record body condition score on your cows. If certain cows need extra feed, winter them with the bred heifers.
  • If the calving season is long and you want to sell the late-calvers, have your DVM identify the late-calvers so they can be sold.

W. Mark Hilton, DVM, is a clinical professor of beef production medicine at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 8

Doug (not verified)
on Oct 25, 2013

Sorry, but I think you are assuming too little about my knowledge of my cows and too much value in an exercise that according to your post must be done through the corrals.

My late-calvers and problem cattle are already known at preg check time. I noted "61U" and she's gone at weaning. Preg-checking does nothing for the surprise Christmas present of an open cow that was palpated pregnant two months earlier.

Don't get me wrong. Preg-checking is a must-do if you don't know the cows!

Today is October 25. I have observed 2 open cows and typically by 11/15 I know all of them. My late calvers still deliver from a 75 day breeding window. Typically, there are 2-3 that are simply 30 days over their normal calving time. The rest are pairs ready for green pastures.

What I need you guys to figure out are the new real problems. For example, what is the cause and the preventative action for late term abortions. Or why are we seeing increasing incidence of lameness in 5-8 year old cows not caused by foot-rot?

I have about half of the abortion problem whipped problem by vaccinating pregnant cows with killed viral + lepto 5 vaccine. My vet said, "Do whatever makes you feel better. It won't hurt." I had to bite my tongue when I learned he started recommending a mid-gestation round of Lepto-5.

But I still have 1-2 calves born (aborted) at about 7-8 months gestation. Last year a 1400# cow delivered a 42# calf that lived. My guess is that one was about 3 weeks early. Why?

I have gone to my DVM who is a member of AABP for an answer. "Remember, your dealing with biology. Things are not perfect out there." Indeed!

Your discussion group decided that 60% preg-check rate was too low. Did your supporting survey split the known cows from the unknown cows? If so I agree with you.

If not, please forgive me for not recognizing this article as the annual exercise of advertising your standard services.

Douglas (not verified)
on Nov 8, 2013

Hamen to that, I think its sad to have to preg check your cattle. You should know your cattle well enough to know if she is bred and if your on top of things you will have a record of when they were in heat. I realize some larger ranches may not be able to monitor their cattle like the 200-500 head operations but the 100 cow preg check deal in my opinion is for inexperied cattleman.

Rock (not verified)
on Nov 8, 2013

I am running into the same thing-why are my 5-8 year old cows without hoof rot coming up lame?

Rock (not verified)
on Nov 8, 2013

why are my 5-8 year old cows without hoof rot coming up lame?

Frank Schlichting (not verified)
on Nov 8, 2013

If you are short on feed I think it is good to preg check so you can cull open cows. This year we have extra feed and we can't sell it so it makes more sense to keep the open cows until July when they will gain more weight and sell at a premium. The fall time is the poorest time to market cull cows.

keith kaden (not verified)
on Nov 8, 2013

im a small producer i only have 50 hd so preg checking for me is a big deal i would rather know if my cows are bred or not because i dont get to spend a lot of time with them because i have to work off the farm to pay for my bed a grocerys. so i have my local vet come out to preg check. i would rather spend $5 a hd to check if she is preg or not plus a $40 for a farm visit. the main reason i do it is because i save time and money in the long run from not haveing to feed a open cow though the winter and not woundering if she is going to have a calf in the spring.

Stocker Steve (not verified)
on Nov 20, 2013

My open cows are marked on the calender. I tried selling late breeders but the vet was not accurate enough.
I do have a couple that need some TLC,
and I Bang's vaccinate,
and I Lepto vaccinate,
and I worm,
so there is a need for a run through the chute.
I sent in 2 late abortions to the state lab. They both came back mold (from purchased grass/clover hay). These cows were two of the thinner ones and they may have just eaten more of it...

KFielding (not verified)
on Jan 14, 2014

I'm a purebred breeder producing bulls and heifers for sale. If hay costs me $350 per head (and it seems to be going up this winter), and I sell one open cow, I am saving that money. If she does not pay her way by giving me a calf for $500 (or more), then she is spending my money. And furthermore, her daughter might be the same and her son (if he is kept a bull) might produce cows that are every other year calvers. Preg checking is a great idea for my small herd of 45. I send all my individual cow's blood in to BioPryn to make sure they are pregnant (costs me less than $3 each, but it is a bit time consuming--we take blood when we wean calves and worm in the fall). If they are not pregnant, they can go somewhere else. A cow that doesn't produce loses me money. And they are worthless to me and others. And I need a short window of calving because that's what my buyers want.

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What's Vet's Opinion?

Three top U.S. veterinarians provide tightly focused discussion of specific beef cattle disease and welfare topics.


Dave Sjeklocha

Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is operations manager of animal health and welfare for Cattle Empire, LLC, Satanta, KS.

Mike Apley

Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is a professor in clinical sciences at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

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