by Bedah Mengo
NAIROBI, Oct. 12 (Xinhua) -- Dairy farmers in Kenya can now know if their cows are pregnant by using a simple blood test, thereby boosting reproductive efficiency and maximizing profits.
Using the test known as rapid visual pregnancy, farmers can establish whether the animals have successfully conceived or not just 28 days after insemination.
Initially, most farmers had to wait for up to two months leading to losses accruing from lost time and money if the animal had not conceived.
"The simple test takes only 21 minutes, and can be run in the main laboratory, veterinary clinic side laboratory or on busy dairy farms as a point-of-care test to determine the pregnancy status from a small amount of blood obtained from the tail of the animal," Dhaval Shah, Pathologist and Head of Veterinary Services at Kenya Ltd, told Xinhua recently.
Traditionally, veterinary professionals in the East African nation have been using the old method of rectal palpation, in which the hand and forearm are inserted through the rectum of the animal to feel for the womb.
With this manual palpation, pregnancy can only be detected 40 to 45 days after insemination by a highly experienced veterinarian.
"This means that failed conception cannot be established until up to seven weeks post-breeding. The new blood pregnancy test is faster and accurate, and has been described as a game-changer in reproductive management of livestock," said Shah, adding that the test is available across the country.
Farmers and veterinarians can access the test by submitting samples to Lancet or ordering the test kit to run the test in-house within their clinics or on-site testing at the farms once trained.
The technology is manufactured by the U.S.-based IDEXX laboratories, which unveiled it in June last year in the country.
"This technology allows farmers to decide in good time whether to re-inseminate non-pregnant animals (open cows), or check for possible health problems preventing pregnancy or sell them to save costs of maintaining the unproductive animals," said Ahmed Kalebi, Consultant Pathologist and CEO of Lancet Group of Labs.
Identifying non-pregnant cows early and accurately after insemination and calving means shorter calving intervals, increased milk production, increased reproductive efficiency and more profit.
Previous testing for pregnancy in cows relied on testing levels of progesterone and estrogen hormones, but these levels were not specific to pregnancy and thus unreliable.
It is estimated that a dairy farmer loses up to 7 dollars a day maintaining a non-pregnant cow on an intensive system or up to 5 dollars per day per cow in an open-grazing system.
"Using the conventional methods, farmers would have to wait for at least another two weeks before a rectal palpation by an expert would identify a non-pregnant cow. This means that they would lose at least 75 dollars on feed, labor and other related costs of owning an unproductive cow over the 15-20 days of uncertainty waiting," Kalebi said.
With the new test, farmers can easily identify problematic cows that cannot conceive if they require more than two inseminations to get pregnant in a single reproductive cycle making it easier for one to decide on culling the animal.
"All these help in reducing financial waste, optimizing milk production when combined with other best practices, and to ensure continuity of the productive stock," Kalebi said.
Despite its reliability and efficiency, Shah said the new test is meant to complement the conventional methods but not replace them.
Kenneth Wameyo, Secretary of the Kenya Veterinary Association, noted that early pregnancy diagnosis will boost productivity since farmers will have their cows calve at intervals of between 380 and 420 days instead of the current average of about 560 days or even more due to failed pregnancy on herds.
"Early and accurate diagnosis of pregnancy is ideal for early identification of fertility problems. Initially, we have been testing pregnancy using manual methods by hand or observing but with the new method, we learn the status of herds at early stages," he added.
Research has shown a pregnancy loss of 1-3.5 percent when palpation or ultrasound are used for pregnancy diagnosis at 40 to 75 days of gestation.