Blood test returns results overnight without need for veterinarian visit
By BARBARA COYNER
For the Capital Press
SUNNYSIDE, Wash. -- Can a simple blood test and a handheld computer milk some extra profits from the already squeezed dairy industry?
Washington dairyman Jason Sheehan thinks so, and he has seven years of data to back up his assessment. According to Sheehan, the blood test -- marketed as BioPRYN, which stands for Pregnancy Ruminant Yes/No -- enables him to routinely test his 3,300-cow herd for pregnancy with less hassle and fewer veterinarian visits.
"The test allows us to preg test earlier and get open cows bred back faster," said Sheehan, who operates J and K Dairy and Tony Veiga Dairy.
"We're looking for non-pregnant cows so we can get them bred back as fast as we can," he said.
For Sheehan, the regimen begins as he and his employees take blood samples from cows 30 days after breeding. The samples are sent to a nearby BioPRYN affiliate lab, which e-mails the results the following day. Using the data, Sheehan determines which cows will be resubmitted for breeding. He said the tests have been about 99 percent accurate for calling a cow open and have translated into less vet visits to the farm.
Sheehan first learned of the testing method from his veterinarians, Mike Wedam and Fred Muller, who now operate one of BioPRYN's 24 U.S. affiliate labs.
The test was developed by retired University of Idaho agricultural science professor Garth Sasser in 1982, when he discovered a pregnancy-specific protein in a cow's placenta. He developed a way to measure the protein and found it is only present in a cow's blood if she is pregnant.
Sheehan said that the blood test does away with the more intrusive palpation method and ultrasounds, which require a trained technician.
For dairies like Sheehan's, keeping cows bred reduces costs. Research shows that delays can cost a producer $1.50 to $2 per cow per day. For higher-producing cows the cost is even greater. Sheehan said the blood test helps him keep a 37 percent conception rate among cows undergoing an artificial insemination service, with a consistent pregnancy rate of 23 percent.
"This method lets me spread out my labor through the week," Sheehan said. "It's harder to get vets out to all of our dairies weekly, so this allows us to preg test without a vet."
Sheehan said that the system has potential for human error. Because the regimen involves finding the cows to bleed, then drawing the blood sample from the backside, it is easier to misread the ear tag. Keeping the identification numbers consistent for testing and follow-up breeding is key, he said.