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Blood tests to check for pregnancy allows producers to better market open cows

Gayle Smith
Gering, Neb.
Courtesy photoTanya Madden, Eagle Talon Enterprises, LLC, operates a laboratory in Laramie, Wyo., where she analyzes blood to determine if the cows are pregnant.

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Commercial producers can sell open cows earlier generating more profit by using an inexpensive blood test to detect pregnancy. In fact, the test is so simple, producers can draw blood from the cows themselves, and send it to a laboratory for testing.

“The test is 99 percent accurate,” said Tanya Madden of Eagle Talon Enterprises, LLC. Tanya operates a laboratory in Laramie, Wyo., where she analyzes the blood to determine

if the cows are pregnant. The blood test, known as BioPRYN, was developed in 1992.

Tanya grew up on a ranch in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She holds a bachelors degree in Molecular Biology, and a masters degree in Animal and Veterinary Science. She started Eagle Talon Enterprises a few years ago after becoming interested in performing ultrasounds on cattle. Her business expanded to BioPRYN after visiting with ranchers about ways to improve the profitability and efficiency of their operations. “It was probably a year after I started looking into BioPRYN, before I added it to my business,” she explained. “It has worked out well for me, because I work with ranchers from all over.”

“Producers like to use it to cull their cattle more accurately, and bred cows aren’t sent to the salebarn accidentally,” Tanya explained. “The test is also easy to do, and less physically demanding than palpation or ultrasound. It is also easier on the fetus because the uterus is not being manipulated, so there is less fetal loss.”

In addition to beef and dairy cows, a similar test available for horses. “All the tests are alike, as they require a blood sample,” she continued. “However, each individual species testing has it’s own set of requirements for days post breeding.”

In cattle, Tanya recommends producers wait until at least 30-days post-breeding for both cows and heifers. The test also shouldn’t be given before 90-days post-calving, because residual PSPB (Pregnancy Specific Protein B) may still be in the maternal system causing false-positive tests.

The test can also be used for recipients of an embryo transplant, however blood is collected at 32 days of embryo age rather than 30 days, in order to give the embryo extra time to attach, the laboratory technician explained.

Typically, a retest is only required when the original test needs to be rechecked, Tanya continued, if a cow wasn’t a full 30 days into pregnancy when the original test was given, or if a producer suspects the cow has lost its calf.

Since the test is so accurate, producers can make key management decisions sooner. They can determine whether to cull an open cow, and have the opportunity to market her at a higher price. They can also chose to rebred her. “Cows diagnosed open can also be re-bred more quickly, resulting in tighter calving intervals, more calves born per year, and higher lifetime milk production, because cows achieve peak milk more often,” Tanya explained.

Producers can easily learn how to give the test themselves, Tanya explained. “It is very easy to learn to draw blood. There are videos that are available on my website, or producers can call for instructions.”

Producers can also choose a convenient time to give the test, such as during fall processing, rather than working around a veterinarian or ultrasound technician’s schedule.

However, Tanya said it is important for producers to properly restrain the animal before taking blood. “Blood can be drawn from the neck, but restraining the head can be very difficult. I recommend collecting blood from under the tail, because it is easier for the cattle and personnel.” The cow should be restrained in a squeeze chute to make drawing blood easier, with less movement from the cow.

To collect blood from under the tail, Tanya said the tail should be cleaned, if fecal matter is present, to prevent contamination. “Contamination is best avoided by always using a new needle for each cow to reduce any false positives,” she explained. “Using blood collection needles and tubes eliminated using any syringes, and the need to transfer blood from syringe to tube.”

The test is very cost-effective compared to palpation and ultrasound. “Palpation is running about $2.50-$5.00 per head, and ultrasound $5.00-$18.00. However, that all depends on the area and number of cattle being tested,” Tanya said. The BioPRYN test costs $2.50 from Eagle Talon Enterprises, plus the additional cost of the sample tube and needle, and shipping the tests.

“The test requires 27 hours from laboratory set-up to reporting,” Tanya said. “A report can be made for the next working day for samples arriving in the lab before noon. The test uses enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) technology for processing, which contributes to its low cost and fast turn-around. If samples are mailed by overnight carrier, add an extra day to this schedule. Results can be faxed or e-mailed back to the producer. Emailed results can be downloaded directly into most management software programs.”

BioPRYN evaluates the blood, or more specifically, the serum or plasma of cows for a protein called PSPB, Tanya said. “PSPB is produced by the placenta, and therefore pregnant animals will have the protein in their blood. This makes the test more accurate than earlier attempts at pregnancy diagnosis that evaluated blood or milk for progesterone or other hormones that can occur in normally cycling animals.”

In addition to BioPRYN, Tanya also offers services for BVD PI and Johne’s testing. To learn more about Eagle Talon Enterprises, see Tanya’s website at EagleTalonent.com. She can be reached at (307) 742-9072.


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