Using ultrasound to market and manage cows and heifers

Author: Kristy

Robin Salverson, South Dakota State University  |  Updated: 09/05/2014

The use of ultrasound in the beef industry is growing but the question remains, “How can it create more dollars in my pocket?” Traditionally open heifers and cows are sold after weaning when cull prices are at the seasonal low. At times, females are held over through the winter months until after calving. How economical is it to have an open cow or heifer running all winter when the average winter feed cost is $500/head?

Ultrasound has several advantages including early pregnancy diagnosis. Skilled technicians can ultrasound as early as 27 days after conception with accuracy. This means cows and heifers can be diagnosed open a month or more earlier than palpation. What does this mean in regards to marketing?

  1. Wean calves early and sell culls when the cull market is higher. Cattle Fax has reported and average from 1994 through 2013 of $101 for cull cows sold in September versus a November market of $91.
  2. Sell open heifers at a younger age so they will fit the feeder cattle market. Heifers close to two years of age will suffer a price discount.
  3. Market replacement heifers or cows into 21 day calving groups at a premium.
  4. Ultrasound can be used to determine fetal sex between 55 and 90 days of gestation. Use this information to merchandise your cows or heifers more effectively. Producers wanting to expand their cowherd may be interested in females carrying heifer calves. On the other hand producers interested in feedlot placement would be interested in females carrying bull calves.
  5. Sort off and feed thin cows to add weight and bring a higher price.

The next question is how can it be used as a management tool? Reproductive efficiency continues to be an extremely important factor in determining the profitability of a given cow-calf operation. In addition to reproductive efficiency, cost of production is also important in determining profitability. Management decisions based on sound information can help obtain optimum reproductive performance and minimize production costs.

  1. Determination of pregnancy status of heifers early in gestation allows producers to select earlier conceiving heifers as replacements. It is proven that heifers that conceive in the first 21 days of the breeding season remain in the herd longer.
  2. Identifying and culling open heifers early will remove sub-fertile females from the herd.
  3. Age the fetuses for the purpose of dividing the cow herd into management groups as they relate to nutrition and calving. Ultimately, the producer hopes to better manage the herd for nutrition immediately prior to calving and to reduce both feed costs and labor.
  4. More open cows and heifers than expected may indicate an abortion problem. Early diagnosis could help solve the problem in a timely manner.
  5. Identify ovarian problems and embryo viability.
  6. Accurate early pregnancy diagnosis is valuable in an A.I. breeding program because it can be used to verify early breeding and enable movement of pregnant cows or heifers out of confinement, thereby decreasing feed costs.
  7. Grass production is not a concern this year, however, during years of drought identifying and selling open heifers and cows early will remove grazing pressure.

Consider these options to minimize cost of production while optimizing reproductive efficiency.

Posted in In The Industry |

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