“Breeding season is at the core of all profitable cow-calf herds,” says Coover, who is a practicing veterinarian and the president of SEK Genetics in Galesburg, Kansas.

“Open cows can drain a cattleman’s budget, so we work with cattlemen, A.I. breeders and other veterinarians to work toward the goal of at least one calf per cow every 365 days.”

For a calf to be born exactly one year from the previous calving, the cow must be pregnant by 82 days post-calving. The company has kept this number in mind for the 32 years the facility has been open.

“We’ve found that the shorter the open season, the better,” Coover says, explaining that the facility’s reproductive toolbox includes a variety of technologies including artificial insemination, embryo transfer and testing services, including many more strategies than when he began practicing veterinary medicine.

“When I first received my DVM, most cows were bred naturally, and our only real option for pregnancy checking was palpation,” he remembers. “Palpation can be time-consuming, as the vet must travel to the farm and relies solely on the diagnosis of the person doing the palpating.”


Palpation is still a strategy used for pregnancy checks today, but Coover says many veterinarians are now utilizing newer, more accurate methods to determine if the cow is pregnant or open, most notably ultrasounding and blood pregnancy testing.

Due to its convenience for the producer and accuracy in results, many of Coover’s clients use blood pregnancy testing, an option often half the cost of an ultrasound.

“We run blood pregnancy tests for many customers,” he says. “Cattlemen like this option because it is user-friendly, accurate, inexpensive and convenient.”

To determine the pregnancy status of the cow, the producer draws a sample of blood from each cow, marks the blood sample tube with the identification number of the cow and sends it into a laboratory for testing.

“Our lab runs four days each week; if we get a blood sample in, we can often e-mail or call the producer with the test results the next day,” notes Coover.

At the lab, technicians analyze the sample for proteins produced by the placenta of the growing fetus. Cows are determined to be pregnant or open based upon the presence of these proteins in a blood sample.

“One of the biggest improvements this has offered is very accurate earlier testing,” Coover says. Traditionally, cattlemen needed to wait at least 40 days for accurate pregnancy diagnosis by palpation. Through blood pregnancy testing, cows can be tested 28 days post-breeding (this is a full 28 24-hour periods) and 73 days post-calving.

This earlier diagnosis opportunity has helped Coover and many other veterinarians design reproduction programs for clients. Cows are synchronized and serviced with A.I. starting at 60 days post-calving. Ten to 14 days after A.I., a bull is turned in to be used for clean-up.

“This gives us the ability to pull blood 28 days after using A.I. to determine if cows are pregnant from that service,” he says. “When cows are found to be open, cattlemen have not lost time in trying to get the cow bred because they could be pregnant to the natural breeding 10 days later.”

Through this program, cows determined open from the first blood pregnancy test can then be tested again 28 days after being removed from the bull. This test is 99 percent accurate when an animal is determined to be open.

If the cow is open after the second test, cows can be re-bred or culled based on the cattleman’s discretion.

Coover says you can pull additional information from the blood samples to provide a more complete health and reproduction picture on each cow. In addition to telling the pregnancy status of the cow, the laboratory can test the blood for neospora infections and other diseases.

“Down the road, technology will enable us to screen cattle to determine which are the most efficient, most resistant to infection and diseases,” says Coover. “Blood pregnancy is the cusp of new technologies to come.”

For the cows that were tested pregnant through the sample, Coover encourages a second test at 70 to 80 days as an insurance policy that the cow is still pregnant before keeping her over the winter.

“If a cow receives a negative test and is found to be open, she can then be marketed confidently as open,” he says. “Culling these open cows contributes to a higher profit per calf at weaning because you’re not paying to feed open cows all winter.

If you see a higher-than-normal incidence of open cows, this might indicate some additional problems within the herd.

“Using blood pregnancy testing turns ranchers into better managers,” says Coover. If beef producers have accurate information in a timely manner, they can use it to make decisions to enhance the profitability of their breeding herd.  end mark

For more information on blood pregnancy testing, visit BioTracking or contact SEK Genetics or (800) 443-6389.

Ethan Giebel is an associate of Filament Marketing LLC.