Pregnancy Testing Services

We offer a range of pregnancy testing services to suit both beef and dairy clients, and scan tens of thousands each season. A majority of our pregnancy testing is carried out using a BCF Easi-Scan curve linear ultrasound, mounted on a rectal introducer. We also have a BCF remote display monitor which connects via Bluetooth to the ultrasound machine, that way you can see too! Occasionally manual palpation is required when the probe cannot reach the uterus. Pregnancy testers should be competent in both methods, in order to ensure a high level of accuracy. Pregnancy testing in this manner is fast, accurate and less stressful on the cows.  It can be carried out through a crush, over the rail or on the dairy platform.

We generally charge per head, rather than per hour, to keep costs at a minimum and so you can budget accordingly (please note, however, a minimum fee applies for small numbers). Therefore, we kindly ask that the cows are yarded, any calves are drafted off, and that there are enough hands to keep cattle flowing continuously. For dairy clients, appointments can be scheduled to suit milking times. Cows do not need to be curfewed/emptied out beforehand, and we aim to minimise time off feed/water so that production disruptions are reduced. With adequate labour and good yards, an average of 100-150 cows can be scanned per hour - however accuracy and safety of both the cattle and stock handlers are our highest priority.

Pregnancy Testing for Beef Clients

Wet/Dry Pregnancy Testing

This basic service determines whether each individual cow is in calf or not. The age of the pregnancy is not recorded. Pregnancies can be reliably detected from 6 weeks after the bull has been removed, through to full term. Information can be recorded for each individual animal and correlated to her NLIS tag if required. This is a common request for heifers and cows that are to be sold as certified pregnancy tested in calf through breeder sales, or for export purposes. 

Pregnancy Testing with Foetal Aging

This more advanced service not only determines whether each individual cow is in calf or not, but also provides an estimate of how old the calf is. Foetal aging is most accurately carried out between 40 and 100 days of gestation. Once the pregnancies advance, there is too much variation in foetal size to be accurate and often the foetus is sitting too low to be measured correctly. Therefore it is important to plan ahead and scan early. Foetal aging in beef cattle has many advantages, including:

1. Identifying "early" and "late" calving cows

This allows the cows to be split into separate mobs and managed accordingly. For example, early calving heifers that are nursing a calf require significantly more feed than their herd mates who may not be calving for another 1-2 months. This may lead to a situation where attempts are made to keep weight off the later calvers by reduced feeding, but the early calvers end up losing weight and therefore struggle to get back in calf. Or vice versa, when feeding might start early to keep condition on the early calving heifers, the later calvers have more difficulty calving due to the overgrown foetus.

2. Tightening calving periods

Foetal aging can be used to help producers wanting to reduce their calving period. Tightening calving periods by drastically reducing the length of joining in a single season can result in inadequate numbers of pregnant cows and subsequent decrease in herd size. Foetal aging can be used to help tighten your calving period over a number of seasons, without significantly changing your herd size. Tighter calving periods have the advantage of reduced labour requirements as well as heavier calves that are more even and easily marketable at weaning. Tighter calving periods can also help reduce the incidence of certain diseases such as calf scours, and allows health protocols such as vaccinations to be given at a more appropriate/effective time.  

3. Value adding to cull females

Bulls can be left in with heifers/cows for an extended period. The "late" calving cows can then be identified and sold as pregnancy tested in calf - this allows you to keep your calving pattern tight, while creating additional markets for animals that would otherwise be empty culls.

4. Identifying pregnancies from AI programs VS backup bulls

This method is more accurate than basing decisions on calving dates as there is significant variation in gestation length. The average gestation period for cows is 283 days, however this can vary from 273 to 293 days – which makes it difficult to determine a calf’s sire based on its calving date, if it is born halfway between cycles. Therefore foetal aging can help save stud producers money on DNA testing individual calves for parent verification purposes (which can be up to 10 times the price of pregnancy testing!).

Assessing Reproductive Performance and Benchmarking Service

When scanning, we are commonly asked "how are the pregnancy rates going this year?". There is no simple answer for this, as the percentage of pregnant animals cannot be compared when different joining periods are used. For example, a producer achieving 80% of heifers in calf on a 6-week joining is a very different scenario than a producer achieving 80% of heifers in calf on a 12-week joining. The spread of pregnancies is often more important to profitability than the total number of cows in calf. Early calving cows are generally more profitable than late calving cows. The statement "a late calf is better than no calf" is not always correct. The cost to carry a cow throughout the year is the same whether she calves early or late (or not at all), however the value of their calf can vary significantly. On average, earlier born calves are heavier at weaning and therefore are of higher gross value. Cows calving early are more likely to get back in calf and therefore wean a calf each year, as opposed to late calving cows which may skip a year, or even multiple years. During this time they are not generating you any income and are costing you money to maintain them if they are not culled from the system.

Collecting foetal aging dates on each cow allows a database to be generated and this can be analysed to assess the performance of each management group as well as the herd overall. This data can be used for in-house year to year comparisons, as well as bench-marked against local results (where applicable for participating producers). The data highlights where reproductive performance is optimal, or where improvements can be made to increase overall profitability. We can capture and collate data for you easily using our NLIS recording equipment and management software.

Click to enlarge images. These are examples of how first trimester pregnancies can be aged, either by measuring the head width or body length of the foetus.

Pregnancy Testing for Dairy Clients

Foetal Aging to Determine Calving Due Dates

Accurate aging is essential for determining dry off dates for cows in the milking herd, and pre-calving management of maiden heifers. Pregnancy testing via ultrasound offers several advantages over pregnancy testing via milk or blood samples, these include:

  • Results are instant at the time of scanning, rather than waiting several days for blood or milk sample results
  • Able to more accurately age the foetus, allowing better dry off and lead feed management
  • Able to determine foetal viability - this is assessed by visually assessing the pregnancy and identifying a normal heart beat
  • Able to determine twin pregnancies
  • Able to assess uterine health and ovarian structures - this is important when determining why a cow may not be pregnant, or if there is a herd based issue

Pregnancy Testing at Dry Off

Re-testing cows before dry off identifies any individuals that may have lost their pregnancy, and therefore should not be dried off if still adequately producing. This service can be timed to best coincide with your dry off dates.

Early vs Late Pregnancy Testing – When to Test?

The best time to pregnancy test your cows depends on your individual production system as well as what information you are wanting to gather. Foetal aging must be done early (i.e. in the first trimester) in order to be accurate, where as wet/dry pregnancy testing can be done any time from 6-weeks after the bull has been removed. With skilled technique, there is little risk of damaging the foetus and so earlier scanning is not higher risk. There is, however, a small percentage of cows that will not maintain their pregnancy to full term for a variety of reasons. This rate varies from around 1-5%, depending on the herd. Earlier testing (i.e. scanned in the first trimester) may be associated with a few more empty cows at calving compared to later testing (i.e. scanned in the last trimester). This is not because the procedure has caused abortions, but rather more time has passed in which the cow may lose her pregnancy. However the advantages of early testing often outweigh this small disadvantage. Advantages include:

  • Identifying empty cows earlier so that they can be sold, saving pasture for the more productive pregnant cows or providing the opportunity to buy in store animals and capitalise on excess feed
  • Empty cows are identified earlier, when market supply is low and prices are often higher
  • Empty heifers can be sold as milk tooths, which generally are worth more per kg than cattle who have cut teeth
  • Data on foetal ages can be collected, providing information which can bring power to your decision making
  • Major catastrophes, such as poor conception rates from broken down bulls, are identified and dealt with earlier

Specimens collected from cull cows at an abattoir.

1: 30 day embryo, still within it's foetal membranes

2: 50 day old foetus

3: 60 day old foetus

4: 80 day foetus

Contact Details

Please feel free to get in contact and discuss how we can help your livestock business.

Dr Jess Shilling BSc/BVMs

P: 0413 107 113


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