Blood pregnancy testing gains interest in the West
By Doug Pals, BioTracking, LLC
Blood-based pregnancy testing is a reproduction tool that has grabbed the attention of both dairy producers and the veterinarian community. While some have been hesitant to make the switch to this form of pregnancy testing, blood pregnancy tests will exceed 800,000 this year; a testament to the growing interest.
An early adopter of the technology, Jason Sheehan of J&K Dairy LLC in Sunnyside, Wash., has been using blood-based pregnancy testing on his operation for almost 10 years. Sheehan has developed a systematic approach to reproductive management that consists of a synchronized breeding program coupled with an early blood pregnancy test at 28 days post breeding and a later pregnancy confirmation check using palpation at 50 days post breeding.
This protocol has been favorable to the dairy, resulting in 100% of cows bred conceiving to an A.I. service and a consistent 21-day pregnancy rate of more than 26%. “The use of blood-based pregnancy detection has allowed us to do weekly pregnancy checks without involving a veterinarian every week,” says Sheehan. “We can continue to A.I. cows at both of our dairy sites and pregnancy check cows weekly without a veterinarian visit.” This strategy allows Sheehan to Resynch cows as early as 30 days since the last heat and be assured that only the cows that are open are Resynched.
Contrary to what some people may think, the veterinarian at Sheehan’s operation plays a more integral role in the operation than ever before. “Switching to blood-based pregnancy testing has actually strengthened our farm’s relationship with our veterinarian,” says Sheehan. Muller, one of the veterinarians in the practice Sheehan utilizes says, “When working with herds that use blood pregnancy testing, I now have the time to be involved in the dairy’s management and work with the milkers, calf crew or review their DairyComp records.”
Lander Veterinary Clinic, a 15 doctor practice in Turlock, Calif., is another clinic that sees the value blood-based pregnancy testing can offer dairies. They are the most recent clinic to establish a blood pregnancy testing laboratory.
“The blood pregnancy test is extremely accurate in detecting open cows as early as 28 days post-breeding,” says Bob Cherenson, a veterinarian with Lander Veterinary Clinic. In university research trials, the test has been proven to be 99% accurate when a non-pregnant cow is determined to be open. This high level of accuracy gives dairy producers the confidence to Resynch these cows.
“We are excited to implement this technology into our current line-up of diagnostic services. We opted to implement use of the blood-based pregnancy test because we sensed a demand amongst our clients and recognized that the technology is here to stay,” says Cherenson.
Blood pregnancy testing may not be for everyone, but Sheehan notes it is a tool that has helped his operation streamline its reproduction program and make pregnancy testing more efficient. At J&K Dairy, cows are only locked up for one hour each day and labor is spread out throughout the week, as opposed to long stints when the veterinarian was on-farm to palpate cows.
This technology is easily adapted to checking dairy heifers, beef cows and heifers, and is also useful in pregnancy testing embryo transfer recipient cows at 25 days after implant (32 days of embryonic age).
For herds that are new to blood-based pregnancy testing, it needs to be understood that some embryonic loss will occur and a confirmation check is needed. The protein that the blood test measures takes time to clear the mother’s blood stream when an embryo or fetus dies. If the embryo dies at 28 to 35 days of age, the protein will take approximately one week to clear.
Pregnancy can be re-confirmed with either palpation, ultrasonography or another blood test. “If the producer wants to know the date of conception and/or the presence of twins either ultrasonography or palpation will be required,” notes Dr. Cherenson.