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Pregnancy Scanning Answers The Big Questions About Calving Time

08 September 2017
Type Media Article

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

To scan or not to scan, THAT is the question facing many Suckler farmers these days.  If you have bred Cows or heifers in recent months, ask yourself the following - Are you certain that they are actually in calf or are some of them barren?  Why bother feeding / wintering barren stock?

When are the first calves due? , When is the peak period that you need to be present?  What about herd management, vaccination in the run up to calving?    

For suckler farmers with cows and heifers, all these questions can be answered by the use of pregnancy scanning.


If it is at least 30 days since the last cow in the herd could have been served then you should consider scanning the cows. It offers so many advantages and is a vital tool used on well managed herds.  

Benefits of Scanning:

It will tell you what is and what is not in calf. This will allow you the opportunity to take out empty cows, wean their calves that bit earlier and have them finished with some supplementation off grass before slaughter or sale. This will save you 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. You can use this information to predict the cows due date which will influence how she is fed, when she is to be vaccinated, (if you give a scour vaccine). It will also 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. 

Provided cows haven't gone over 12 -14 weeks in calf you may well be able to pick up if there are any cows carrying twins which will alert you to watch the condition of these cows in the run up to calving. It will also have you primed for what to expect at calving. Some scanners may even sex the embryos.

It will sometimes show up cows that may be carrying an unviable embryo that for one reason or another is unlikely to go full term. If the scanning reveals for example 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 a bull issue or perhaps a mineral deficiency or a disease problem, either way, it should prompt you into investigating the issue further.

By identifying when cows are due to calf they can be batched nearer calving time so that they are easier move to calving boxes/facilities. Late calving cows can be restricted on feed to stop them getting over fat. Thinner cows, in-calf heifers or cows carrying twins can be taken out given additional feed if necessary. 

Scanning Costs:

Cost of scanning - Approx. €3 per cow plus call out charge (€20 - €50). Rates will vary and may be dependent on the number of animals being scanned. 

Using ICBF Expected Beef Calving Reports:

On the day of the scanning you need to record the cow/heifer number that is being scanned and record the number of days that animal is in calf or record if the animal is empty. If the scanner identifies that an animal is carrying twins this should also be noted. Although this is all good information to have it can be made all the more useful if it is entered in on the ICBF Herdplus Expected Beef Calving Report, which is generated after scanning details, dam and bull tag numbers etc are inputted. 

Expected Beef Calving Report:

This is an extremely useful report to generate because it will List out the expected calving dates of the cows/heifers in your herd. What sire they are in calve too and its % calving difficulty. Give an estimated €urostar value for each calf to be born and more importantly you have a potential replacement value for heifers. This report will be of huge benefit to suckler farmers involved in the Beef Data Genomic Programme.