There’s something weirdly satisfying about pulling blood…
Or maybe it’s just me.
Actually, it probably IS just me.
I guess it all started during my two years as a Vet Tech… I learned to pull blood from a lot of different critters, and got pretty proficient at it, if I do say so myself. My skills have gotten a little rusty, but they still have come in handy the last few years when we’ve drawn blood to pregnancy test our cattle.
Now, I know this post will be completely and utterly non-applicable to most of you, so feel free to click over and read about canning beef stew instead. However, when I mentioned this topic to my newsletter list I got a very positive response from folks who were interested in learning more, so I figured I’d write up a post just because my newsletter peeps are the BEST. 😉
First off, let’s cover a few of the basics.
Why Would You Pregnancy Test Cattle in the First Place?
When I first brought up this topic to my readers, I got a whole lot of stories from disappointed homesteaders who had assumed their cows were bred, only to have the due date roll around and find out the cow was open (not pregnant) the whole time.
And that, my friends, is why preg-testing is awesome.
Preg-testing will give you a definitive answer so you can then either re-breed the cow, or potentially cull them. It’s crucial for large producers to preg-check as it’s extremely inefficient to feed hundreds of “hopefully pregnant” cows for months, only to find out they never got pregnant to begin with. And even if you’re just small-potatoes cattle owners like we are, I still want the chance to re-breed my cow in the same window of time without waiting 10 months to find out if our artificial insemination efforts were successful.
(And no– you can’t always expect to easily “see” the pregnancy in your cow. There have been many years where it was tough to tell our cattle were pregnant until their udders started really filling up– and that’s usually not until late in pregnancy.)
Palpation vs. Blood Tests
Most large cattle operations around us simply schedule the local veterinarian to come out and preg-test big bunches of cattle at once.
A skilled vet can very accurately determine pregnancy via rectal palpation (yup– sticking an arm “up there”). It only takes a matter of seconds and it doesn’t hurt the cow. It’s fast and efficient.
Since we only have a small bunch of cattle, we generally haul our cattle to the vet office to be palpated. But we’ve also starting drawing blood and sending it to a lab to be analyzed. Why? Because blood tests can detect pregnancy a bit faster than palpation can. You can do a pregnancy blood test at 28 days post-breeding, while you must wait till around 40-days post breeding in order to have a cow palpated.
Sometimes that doesn’t matter, but other times, detecting just a bit earlier can help you be ready to re-breed quicker, just in case.
Another advantage to using a blood test to determine pregnancy is that you don’t have to haul any animals to the vet. This can be a big advantage for folks who don’t have easy access to a trailer.
We’ll personally continue to use both methods, but today I thought I’d show you how we draw blood from our cattle to send into the lab, just in case it might come in handy for you.
For each cow you are bleeding, you will need:
- 3 cc syringe (you can use one that’s slightly larger, but this size is easy to handle.)
- Needle (I usually use an 18-gauge or 16-gauge needle– 3/4″ or 1″ in length is fine)
- Red-topped blood collection tube (get these at your local feed store or vet office)
(You can also use a Vacutainer set-up for drawing blood if you’re more comfortable with that.)
How to Tail Bleed a Cow
(Note: You can also pull blood from the jugular vein of a cow, but I think the tail method is easier if you’re a beginner.)
1.Restrain the cow.
If you have a squeeze chute or head catch, that’s ideal. If not, hopefully your cow is quiet enough to be able to able to be tied with a halter while you draw the blood. If your cow is wild and you don’t have a head catch or chute, you’ll probably want to skip this method altogether. Oakley, our milk cow, will allow us to pull blood while she’s just standing tied with a halter, but I definitely wouldn’t try it with our other cattle. They go into the head catch to keep everyone safe.
2. Clean the underside of tail.
A swipe with a bit of rubbing alcohol is ideal.
3. Pull the tail straight up.
4. Find the midline groove about 3-5 inches from the base of the tail.
You’ll be able to feel the “valley” with your fingers. The cap of the syringe is pointing to the groove in the above photo.
5. Insert the needle about 1/2″ into the groove, perpendicular to the tail.
6. Draw back on the syringe.
If it doesn’t immediately fill with blood, carefully redirect your needle.
7. Once you have 2cc of blood, remove the needle and place your finger over the hole for a few seconds to stop the bleeding.
8. Place the blood in your red top tube.
Label the tube, and follow the instructions from the laboratory you’re using for packaging and shipping.
And that’s it! I usually have the results emailed to me, and then come only a day or two after I ship the blood off. Super easy.
The Lab We Use:
We’ve used local BioPYRN affiliated laboratory the last few years, and I’ve been super happy with them. BioPYRN also has great instructions on their website, and you can also use the lab locator on the main page to find a facility close to you.
(I’m not affiliated with BioPYRN, and I don’t get a dime for recommending them. I just use them and like them.)
Nena Wilkinson says
You can also pregnancy test a cow with a human home pregnacy test. Just hold it in their urine stream or collect some urine in a cup and dunk it and wait a few minutes. We get ours at the local dollar store.
Shelly MacRobbie says
Neat idea Nena.
Does that work for goats too? What a great idea.
Mare Holloway says
I tried that with my cow when she was. And it showed neg. for being preganat. Did I do something wrong?????? Or maybe it was a bad one.
Terry Pietschmann says
That’s cool, thanks great for homesteading on a budget as always.
Ugh- we used a urine preg test for cows & it came back negative over and over – when our cow was actually bred.
I have the vet palpitate. 12 days isn’t a big deal for us.
Jill Winger says
Hmm… I’ve never heard of doing that.
No. Human pregnancy tests check for hcg which is human chorionic gonadotropin, a human specific hormone. There is no way it would work on cattle. The blood test for cattle checks for a pregnancy related protein that is specific to ruminants. There is no urine test for cattle.
No you can’t. Hcg is the human growth hormone. Cows and goats aren’t tested for the same hormone.
Shelly MacRobbie says
Thank you for posting this Jill. Gave me a research project for when I come in from the 5 am calf check!
D S from Ill says
Ive heard it all now. If a cow is not bred the bull will be right after her in 28 days again. I showed, bred, and raised cattle for a number of years, and also worked for 4 yrs as a vet assistant. It is much easier to draw blood from the jugler vein in the neck than from the tail, and you don’t have the mess or the problem of possibly getting kicked in the shin.
U. R. Nottoobrite says
We all see why you are no longer a VET Tech. Ha!
Lisa G. in CT says
“Completely and utterly”…ha! Love it! (although I guess if you were trying to be punny it would have been “udderly.” Still – ha!) I know – you’ve heard it a thousand times. 😉
I live in a city, and totally enjoy reading about the nitty gritty like this, even if I never get a chance to do it.
Jill Winger says
I’m glad that you enjoy the more “farmy” posts, even if you live in the city. Sometimes I hesitate to post them, as I know they don’t apply to everyone. So it helps to people are enjoying them. 🙂
Thanks! Just refreshing my memory. Very helpful.
Linn Emerson says
Hey Jill the tail thing is great if you have a full squeeze where your not getting kicked. One person can handle it. Id hate to get head butted by catching it from the neck. Our vet would come out and palpate our cows, and the bull would occasionally miss one. By that time the bulls were separated from the cows, and we’d have to turn the open cows back in with the bulls.But rather than paying the vet to come out again, we would draw blood, if she wasn’t bred she was gone
THANK YOU!!! We plan to do this very soon and i have drawn blood from a lot of horses but not Cows and seen it done a lot but wasn’t positive I could get the job done! After seeing and reading I do believe i can do it!
Debra High says
I need to send a few samples in (new to it) & the Biopryn site says the lab locations are not available Zip is 77968 south Texas.
Great info. I’ve drawn blood for the last two years on my milk cow. This method works great. We put her in the grooming chute. Last year preg. Was positive.. hopefully, the same this year..I send my blood samples to UBRL.org, they are in Fresno, Ca.