Technology Profile: Milk-based pregnancy check
By Dr. Bruce Hoffman, DVM
As a veterinarian, I have witnessed firsthand dramatic changes over the past 10 years in the dairy industry. The recent introduction of a milk-based pregnancy test is the latest tool that will alter and enhance reproductive management on dairies of all sizes.
Although it may seem to some that yet another offering born from technology serves only as a source of angst, this test will undoubtedly emerge as one of the keys to strengthen the all-important efforts to improve efficiencies and cut costs on our nation’s dairies.
It wasn’t long ago that we had one tool for the detection of pregnancy – a trained arm. Veterinarians perfected this tool through years of practice on thousands of cows. In the process of perfection, we established ourselves as experts, but suffered the effects of physical strain and damage to our bodies.
A little relief from the physical demands of preg checking came in the form of compact ultrasounds machines, allowing veterinarians to inspect ovaries and confirm pregnancies at an earlier gestation.
Then came the introduction of the blood pregnancy test. Operations, large and small, began to explore the benefits of a test that could accurately detect a fetus at 28 days, without either an arm or an ultrasound. Risks presented by invasive palpation, such as aborted embryo, were eliminated.
Now, milk preg testing eliminates the need to draw blood. No arm, no ultrasound, no needle or head catch to retrieve a sample – simply collect milk from a cow that is milked two to three times every day, seven days a week.
The milk pregnancy test detects pregnancy as early as day 35. This tool may alter the amount of time and frequency of veterinarian’s visit to preg check cows, but it does not eliminate them. More time can devoted to training and observing problem areas at the dairy. Our profession has always adapted to change. The key is to use our expertise and training in helping the dairies to manage this technology.
As is normal in the introduction phase of a new product, operations will question the results and accuracy of the test’s outcome, and its place in the industry will be heavily scrutinized. That said, this test will, at the very least, ensure that dairies have the opportunity to set up an efficient reproductive plan and a tool to decreases days open, limit the handling of cows, and utilize dairy employees to take the milk samples required.
Like any new product or service, it will not fit all operations or management styles. The test does not determine the age of the calf, or detect problems with the reproductive tract. How to sort cows, properly take and identify the samples and get them shipped, and incorporating results and timing with sync programs are all details the industry must work out. Veterinarians can assist their clients in the decisions.
There are more questions than answers at this point, but it’s definitely an intriguing advancement in reproductive and operational efficiency. At a recent dairy conference where I presented information on the test, dairy owners and managers reacted with excitement and interest.
Will this test change the way pregnancies are determined and eliminate the entire practice of physical detection? Perhaps not, but I believe it definitely could change what we as veterinarians believe as the norm. The continued growth of the test will demonstrate the positive use and benefit to dairies.
* API recently launched EasyPreg, a milk-based pregnancy test.