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Scanning Suckler Cows

By Ciaran Beatty,

Teagasc Beef & Sheep Adviser, Castlerea



Being able to predict when suckler cows and heifers are due to calve can be a huge help to any farmer.  Most farmers today strive to reduce costs on their farms but in this case the money spent on scanning should be viewed as an investment and not a cost. Having a cow that will produce a calf every 365 days is key to the profitability of any suckler farmer. Scanning should only be carried out 35-40 days after the end of the breeding season (when bull is removed).  If cows are not scanned until after 10-12 weeks in calf, the scanner will have problems in identifying the exact stage of pregnancy or indeed if the cow is carrying twins.


Advantages of Scanning:


  • The most obvious advantage of scanning is that it will tell you whether the cow is in calf or not.  This will present you with the opportunity to take out empty cows, wean their calves earlier and have these barren cows finished with some supplementation off grass.  This has the added advantages of saving you money, fodder, time and shed space on your farm.
  • Most scanners can give a good estimate on the number of weeks the cow is in calf. This information can then be used to predict the due date and this will influence how she is fed, penned, vaccinated, etc.  This information will also allow for proper planning if and when you need to organise your peak calving period and sort out facilities and help if required.
  • The diagnosis of a cow carrying twins will alert you to watch the condition of these animals approaching calving.  Some extra supplementation may be required for cows in poor condition.  It should also warn you as what to expect at calving and also be ready if calving assistance is needed or indeed the intervention of your local vet.
  • Some scanners can also sex the embryo’s and can predict whether the cow is carrying a bull or a heifer and this information can be of major interest to Pedigree breeders.
  • Scanning can also show up cows carrying an unviable embryo or have issues with fertility/physiology and may indeed speed up the decision to cull in the future.


If scanning reveals that more than 5% of your cows are empty, this may signify that there is a fertility problem in your herd.  An infertile bull may be the problem or perhaps a mineral deficiency or a disease problem. Scanning is not overly expensive with the charges ranging from €4 - €5 per cow plus a call out charge as well.  Generally the charges can be reduced for larger herds and indeed if a number of farmers in the locality /Discussion Group Members joined together to arrange their scanning on the same day, costs could be reduced.

In summary, pregnancy scanning is a vital management tool for the serious suckler farmer and can provide vital information on fertility on what to expect and when to expect it, thus helping in the management and organisation of calving and labour requirements.  Do we really need that passenger over the winter period?


Teagasc provides a Local Advisory and Education service to farmers. They have offices based in Roscommon Town  (Tel: 090 6626166), Longford Town (Tel: 043 3341021) and Castlerea (Tel: 094 9620160). www.facebook.com/Teagascroscommonlongford/