Nobody can predict the future. Being able to predict when their cows and heifers are due to calve can be a huge help to suckler farmers. This can be achieved if they pregnancy scan their herd.

Scanning removes the unpredictability of calving dates next spring.

Timing: Scanning should only be carried out 35 days after the end of the breeding season. With this in mind, having a definite end date to the breeding season, along with stock bull withdrawal from the breeding herd is essential. Withdrawing the bull will give you the ability to tighten your calving spread, giving you a definite date from which calving will be finished next spring.

Benefits of Scanning:

  • It will tell you what is and what is not in calf, allowing you the opportunity to take out empty cows, wean their calves that bit earlier and have these barren cows finished with some supplementation off grass. Finishing these barren cows (along with other cull cows/heifers) will save you fodder, money, time and shed space.
  • Most scanners will be able to give you a good estimate of the number of weeks that each cow has gone in calf. This information can be used to predict the cows/heifer’s due date which will influence how she is managed, fed, vaccination time etc. It will allow you to predict the peak calving period so that extra help can be planned or when you may need to take time off work. In the run up to calving, pregnant cows can be drawn out and penned according to their predicted calving date. As calving approaches, these cows can be moved into pens or loose housing closest to the calving boxes/area.
  • Scanning allows you to identify late calvers, batch them together and feed accordingly. These predicted late calvers could be selected for culling next year when their calves have been weaned. There is also the option of culling these predicted late calvers now and selling them at the mart.

Other Advantages:

  • Scanning will have you primed for what to expect at calving. It will sometimes show up cows that may be carrying an unviable embryo that for some reason is unlikely to go full term.
  • If the scanning reveals that more than 5% of your cows are empty then this may signify that there is a fertility problem in your herd. Maybe it was an infertile bull issue or perhaps a mineral deficiency or a disease problem – either way, it should prompt you into investigating the issue further
  • Pregnancy scanning is one of the tasks of the present Beef Technology Adoption Programme (BTAP). If involved in this scheme and choosing this Task, ensure that both your Faciliator and ICBF receive scan results.

The cost of scanning is approximately €5 per cow. However, cost per cow is generally less for larger herds (20 or more cows) and where cows are all scanned together in the one location. A suggestion is that some farmers in the same locality (or in a discussion group) get together and arrange to have their herds scanned on the same day, thus reducing costs.

In summary, pregnancy scanning will tell you what is and what is not in calf, allowing you to cull barren cows. It provides information on herd fertility, on what to expect and when to expect it, thus helping in the management, organisation of calving and labour requirements. It is a vital management tool for suckler herds

By Anthony O’Connor, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare Regional Unit