Every autumn (or winter, if time runs away with us) comes one of the most nail-biting days in our farming calendar… PD’ing.
Our breeding season for our cows is from the end of April to the start of August.
Technically, we can get them PD’ed as early as 30-35 days after we take the bull out in August, though from 40 days onwards is safer because the pregnancies are quite delicate in their early stages and can be easily lost if the cow gets stressed or knocked by another cow.
Towards the end of September would be the optimum time, but we’re far too busy with the end of harvest then, so we tend to wait until November…
On that nerve-wracking November day, a trained person comes out to the farm with a portable ultrasound scanner to check all our cows (and heifer calves, after a few surprise teen pregnancies!).
The scanning person has a portable screen, or wears some fancy goggles that have a screen attached to them, and the screen is connected to an ultrasound probe that’s inserted into the cow’s rectum- called Transrectal Ultrasonography. The cow’s reproductive structures are seen on the screen, and the person can determine whether they’re pregnant or not.
To me, the screen basically looks dark and fuzzy with some lighter fuzzy bits… But somehow, experienced professionals manage to identify which of those fuzzy bits are a calf and even the age of the calf, all in about a minute!
If you get the cows PD’ed before they’re about 130 days in-calf, the scanner can spot any twins which are hiding away, ready to surprise us at calving time. And if you scan even earlier in the pregnancy, some can identify the sex of the calf!
We usually scan far too late in their pregnancies to accurately age the calves though, let alone detect twins. After around 5 months, it’s hard to determine exactly when the calving date is because of the uterus dropping quite low in the cow’s stomach, so we can only get an estimate of which month they’ll arrive in.
This year, all the cow bar one were found to be pregnant, and most of them due in February and March. Some have even held to A.I., which is a massive relief!
It’s so worrying waiting to find out whether any are empty.
We’ve given this year’s empty cow a second chance because we’re almost certain she did get in-calf but has reabsorbed it early on in the pregnancy, which isn’t a fault with her fertility, it’s just one of those things. But usually, barren cows get sold, because giving them a year’s holiday with no calf can mean they get too fat and struggle to calve the following year.
Sometimes, heart rules head though, and second chances get handed out more times than not… Yes, it’s a business, but we can afford to have the odd free-loader as long as she makes up for it in future years.