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The Why and How of Pregnancy Diagnosis

Knowing the pregnancy status of you herd can help on several management fronts. Several options are available to suit specific herd needs.

According to the numbers reported by USDA, managers of larger beef breeding herds are more apt to apply pregnancy diagnosis technologies, but only about 20% of all herds in the United States are preg-checked. University of Tennessee animal scientist Ky Pohler talked about why pregnancy diagnosis is useful, and the ways it can be accomplished, during the Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle (ARSBC) Workshop hosted Aug. 29-30 in Manhattan, Kan.

Ky Pohler“Why check for pregnancy? The math is simple,” stated Ky Pohler, University of Tennessee animal scientist, noting an average cost of $600 for maintaining a cow until she weans a 450-pound (lb.) calf. Assuming that calf is worth an average of $760, the profit is $165.

“Why check for pregnancy? The math is simple,” stated Pohler, noting an average cost of $600 for maintaining a cow until she weans a 450-pound (lb.) calf. Assuming that calf is worth an average of $760, the profit is $165.

“If the cow is open and goes undetected, the producer is sure to experience a loss,” said Pohler.

Pohler explained how knowing the pregnancy status of the breeding herd can help make management decisions, such as the adequacy of nutrition. It can help the producer evaluate bull or semen quality and the efficiency of estrous synchronization programs. It can also be used to determine how much pregnancy loss may be occurring and when.

Pohler described the various methods of pregnancy diagnosis and when, during pregnancy, each method is applicable. Detection by manual palpation of the uterus can be applied beginning at Day 35, while ultrasound examination of the uterus typically be used as early as Day 28 to Day 30. Chemical testing for the presence of pregnancy-associated glycoprotein (PAG) in blood may also be accomplished at Day 20 to Day 30. Testing for milk progesterone at about Day 18.

While early pregnancy detection is desirable to many operations, Pohler said early diagnosis will likely remain a challenge because embryonic loss occurring afterward can confound producers’ expectations. Still, he advised producers to choose the method that best suits their management system and to use it to its best advantage.

Pohler spoke during Wednesday’s ARSBC session focused on systems and health. Visit the Newsroom at, which features comprehensive coverage of the symposium, to view his PowerPoint or listen to the presentation. Compiled by the Angus Journal editorial team, the site is made possible through sponsorship by the Beef Reproduction Task Force. To access video of the presentations, visit the Beef Reproduction Task Force page on Facebook.

The 2017 ARSBC Symposium was hosted by the Task Force and Kansas State University Research & Extension. Next year’s symposium will be Aug. 29-30 in Ruidoso, N.M.

Editor's Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of the Angus Journal, an Angus Media publication. To request reprint permission and guidelines, contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at 816-383-5270.