Milk pregnancy testing: A fast-track to identifying empty cows?

Milk pregnancy testing is growing in popularity among Irish farmers, according to service providers in the country, with this reflected on an international stage – some 30 million tests have now been performed worldwide.

In Ireland, at present, there are three firms that provide milk pregnancy testing, through either milk recording or postal kits: Munster Bovine, which tests through milk recording; Enfer Group, which tests through postal kits; and Progressive Genetics, which offers both.

According to Progressive Genetics, the tests are conducted in a four-step process:
  • Sample collection – milk samples are collected and transported to the laboratory;
  • Testing – samples are tested for pregnancy-specific proteins, indicating if a cow is pregnant or not;
  • Results – ELISA technology provides results which Progressive says are “on par with palpation and ultrasound”;
  • Report – results are reported by text message, email or post.

The test has three varieties, depending on the expected pregnancy of the cow: early test; confirmation test; and pre dry-off test.

The early test is used from 28 days after AI to identify non-pregnant cows as early as possible, so the cow can be re-inseminated quickly.

Meanwhile, the confirmation test, used from 70 to 110 days, is utilised to detect early embryonic death. Finally, the pre dry-off test is used in late gestation to avoid drying off a non-pregnant cow in anticipation of calving.

In terms of benefits, listed advantages of milk pregnancy testing include: better reproductive performance, through identifying non-pregnant cows earlier; less handling of cows for the farmer and less stress for the cows; and better profitability in terms of maximising milk production.

Profits can be increased by reducing non-pregnant days to the tune of €5/cow/day, Progressive Genetics says, quoting a study conducted by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Science.

It was noted that the service is “particularly suitable” for dairy farmers via milk recording – but also suckler farmers through postage.

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