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Milk-based pregnancy tests: Considering cost factors

PD Editor Dario Martinez Published on 27 January 2013

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This article was #10 of the Top 25 most well-read articles on www.progressivedairy.com in 2013. It was published in the Jan. 30, 2013 Extra e-newsletter. Click here for the full list of the Top 25.

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In late 2012, dairy producers were introduced to milk-based pregnancy testing, a new method to determine whether cows are bred or open. Maine-based IDEXX Laboratories partnered with Antel Bio Systems to bring the IDEXX Milk Pregnancy Test to the market, while Animal Profiling International, Inc. (API) of Portland, Oregon, launched EasyPreg. Both of these tests determine pregnancy based on the concentration of pregnancy-associated glycoproteins (PAGs), and they do so with a high level of accuracy when samples are taken at 35 days or more after breeding.

We asked company representatives,

Q. One year later, how are herds accepting this new tool and integrating milk-based pregnancy testing into their current protocols?

“Since the launch of the IDEXX Milk Pregnancy Test just over one year ago, dairy producers in North America have been implementing milk-based pregnancy checks using this lab-based test. More than 30 labs in North America now offer the test, with many producers testing as part of their routine DHI program. Other customers looking to use the test as an early method of pregnancy testing submit their samples to the milk lab on a more frequent basis. While a number of herds are using the test for pregnancy confirmation prior to dry-off, the majority of producers are using the test for first and second pregnancy checks to ensure open cows are identified quickly for re-breeding. The test has been extremely well received by the industry with test volume continuing to grow. The IDEXX Milk Pregnancy Test recently won a Dairy Herd Management Innovation Award, as well as the inaugural People’s Choice Award at the World Dairy Expo in Madison.”

—Hannah Pearse, IDEXX

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“Based on our communication and data gathering with selected test providers, the following comments have been made. As it relates to milk pregnancy testing, the acceptance has come from the smaller dairies (100 cows or less). It is usually replacing the initial pregnancy test, and some dairies are using it as a confirmation. We have not seen it replace the vet, as there are still many cows that require more than just being designated open or pregnant. It has increased the frequency of pregnancy checking in dairies that traditionally only checked once per month due to vet and trip cost.

“The medium and large dairies (1,000 cows or more) have shown interest, but they have not been as quick to utilize the milk test. We have not seen issues with our pricing or the protocols, which have not changed.”

—Ray R Rogers, chairman and CEO, Animal Profiling International

ARTICLE :

012813_milksamples

Profitability on dairies hinges on many different factors, some of them are controllable while others are not. On the reproductive side, producers think hard before making any change to this area – even when new technologies are developed.

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At last year’s World Dairy Expo, IDEXX Laboraties Inc. , in partnership with Antel BioSystems (AntelBio), announced the launch of the IDEXX Milk Pregnancy Test, which detects the concentration of pregnancy-associated glycoproteins (PAGs) in milk to determine the pregnancy status of a cow.

This new test joins the list of other chemical-based pregnancy tests that measure pregnancy-associated glycoproteins or monitor progesterone levels.

One question that never fails to cross producers' minds is whether a new product like this one is a fit for their operation in the first place and what the associated costs are to implement the new technology.

In the Jan. 1, 2013 issue of Progressive Dairyman , I wrote an article introducing this new technology and how it works. Click here to read it.

Although this test is still relatively new, it is only another option in determining cow pregnancies, along with blood-based pregnancy tests and the more traditional methods of pregnancy diagnosis like rectal palpation and transrectal ultrasound.

As a note of clarification, I also mentioned the EasyPreg milk pregnancy test in the article, which is the same test as the IDEXX milk pregnancy test. The only difference is that Portland-based Animal Profiling International (API) markets this milk pregnancy test as EasyPreg.

Costs of milk-based pregnancy tests

Hannah Pearse, Dairy Marketing Manager for IDEXX, explains that the milk pregnancy test is still in its very early days and the price for the test will depend on several factors such as whether the sample is taken as part of routine DHI testing or the number of samples being tested at any one time.

Veterinarian and president of API Bruce Hoffman explains that producers who use the EasyPreg test can simply mail their milk samples directly to the company lab in Portland, where the test will be conducted.

“We just use flat-rate U.S. mail, which is cheap,” Hoffman says. “You can ship samples for as little as $0.06 per sample, depending on box size and volume.”

He adds that the cost to run the test per sample also ranges depending on volume.

“Our highest price is $3.75 for less than 10 samples and $3.20 for 10 to 25 samples,“ he says.

AntelBio, a subsidiary of Northstar Cooperative , has made the milk pregnancy test available through the cooperative to producers in Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.

According to the AntelBio website, the price for the lab-based test is listed at $4.50 per sample. There is also $5 submission fee per order, but no supply or shipping charges are incurred if the tests are conducted on DHI samples.

Katy Starr, marketing specialist at AgSource Laboratories in Jerome, Idaho, explains that the milk-based pregnancy test was made available to dairy producers at this laboratory on November 1, 2012.

She adds that AgSource Laboratories in Menomonie, Wisconsin, also offers the milk-based pregnancy testing.

Starr explains that the cost of the milk-based testing sample in the Jerome laboratory depends on the number of cows that producers want to test per month.

“We try to give volume discounts whenever possible,” she says. “The nice thing about us being local is we can run the test through DHI samples.”

The Dairy Authority LLC , a lab in Greeley, Colorado, which offers a full line of bacteriological assays, currently has the price for the milk pregnancy test set at $2.60 per sample.

The cost of the milk pregnancy test varies from one lab to another. Currently, there are DHI labs across the country that are planning to offer this testing service. Check with your dairy herd improvement organization or local milk analysis laboratory to see the availability and price of the test in your area.

Comparing costs

Blood-based pregnancy tests are currently another chemical-based pregnancy test that have been available to producers for several years.

Idaho-based company BioTracking, LLC developed BioPRYN, a blood-based pregnancy test that measures the presence of pregnancy-specific protein B in the blood circulation of an animal.

Jeremy Howard, director of sales and marketing at BioTracking, explains that BioTracking has an affiliate laboratory network consisting of 32 affiliate labs located across the country that offer the blood-pregnancy test to producers.

Because the labs are independently run, the costs for the test can range from $2.50 to $3.00 per sample, he says.

Other costs associated with the BioPRYN pregnancy test include the cost of sample tubes and needles, as well as the shipping expenses incurred if the tests are not processed at a local lab. Labor requirements for drawing blood samples are another cost area to consider.

When comparing the cost of milk-based tests to traditional methods of pregnancy diagnosis such as rectal palpation and ultrasound, additional factors should be considered.

As with blood-based tests, the labor costs (i.e hourly fees) associated with either rectal palpation and ultrasound should be taken into consideration. Other costs include the fee incurred for a veterinarian to make a visit to your dairy operation.

Again, the milk-based pregnancy test is another tool to determine pregnancy in your animals which could be implemented as part of your dairy's reproductive program.

Before making any change to your reproduction program, evaluate your current method of pregnancy diagnosis to determine if the milk-based test could be a fit for your operation, and then review the costs factors. Your current system may already work efficiently enough to meet your dairy’s goals. PD

For more information about the IDEXX milk pregnancy test, click here to visit the website or click here to contact Hannah Pearse.

Dario Martinez
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