Lancet Kenya chief veterinarian Dhaval Shah. Photo credit: Salaton Njahu/NMG
Dairy farmers for the first time can now know the pregnancy status of their cows very fast and convenient after conception by a simple blood testing technology thus boosting the productivity efficiency and health of their cows and maximizing the profit.
The advanced Rapid Visual Pregnancy Test introduced by Lancet Kenya empowers dairy farmers to establish whether their cows have successfully conceived or not within 28 days after conception.
This test takes 21 minutes and can be run in the main laboratory, veterinary clinic side-laboratory in in a busy dairy farm as a point of care test to determine the pregnancy status from a small amount of blood gotten from the tail of the cow. This makes the pregnancy test easier and faster farmers and veterinary experts.
Traditionally veterinary professionals employed the conventional method of rectal palpation, in which the blood and forearm is inserted through the rectum of the animal to feel the womb. With the manual palpation, pregnancy can only be detected 40-45 days after insemination by a highly experienced veterinarian. This means the failed pregnancy cannot be detected until 6-7 weeks post-breeding.
The new blood pregnancy test is faster and accurate, and has been described by some veterinary professionals as a game changer in reproductive management of livestock. It has been introduced in Kenya by Pathologists Lancet Kenya Limited through its veterinary diagnostic services and is available all across Kenya and the wider East Africa region through Lancet’s branch network of over 40 laboratories and service points.
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 on using the kit. The technology is manufactured by the US-based IDEXX laboratories, which unveiled it in June last year in the US. “This exciting newly developed point-of-care rapid test has been shown to save livestock farmers weeks and months of waiting to know if their livestock has conceived or not after insemination.
It therefore allows the farmers to decide in good time whether to re-inseminate non-pregnant ones (open cows), or check for possible health problems preventing pregnancy or sell them to save costs of maintaining the unproductive animals,” says Dr 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 effciency, and better profits,” he said.
Previous testing for pregnancy in cows relied on testing levels of progesterone and estrogen hormones, but this levels were not specifc to pregnancy and thus unreliable, therefore not favoured by the livestock industry.
“The new test kit introduced by IDEXX detects PAGs which are compounds that are highly specifc to pregnancy and with no known interfering substance as such, therefore very reliable for accurate diagnosis of pregnancy. The methodology has been tried, tested and verified internationally. IDEXX has done a tremendous job of innovation that will make a huge positive difference for livestock farmers and their veterinarians” – It is estimated from studies done abroad that a dairy farmer loses up to Sh700 (USD 7.00) a day maintaining a non-pregnant cow on an intensive system or up to Sh500 (USD 5.00) per day per cow on an open-grazing system.
“This new test reduces the days a cow is unproductive by early detection of non-pregnant cows after insemination, within 4 weeks instead of 6 weeks with conventional methods, so that they can be synchronized for a repeat insemination,” explains Dr Kalebi.
“Using the conventional methods, farmers would have to wait for at least another 2 weeks before a rectal palpation by an expert would identify a non-pregnant cow. This means that they would lose at least Sh7500 (USD 75.00) on feed, labor and other related costs of owning an unproductive cow over the 1520 days of uncertainty waiting”
The test also helps to identify those problematic cows that cannot conceive if they require more than two inseminations to get pregnant in a single reproductive cycle much earlier than the conventional tests making it easier for the farmer to decide on culling the animal. All these help in reducing financial waste, optimizing milk production when combined with other management best practices, and to ensure continuity of the productive stock.”
Lancet’s Head of Veterinary Services Dr. Dhaval Shah says the new test is meant to complement the conventional methods such as rectal palpation as it identifies pregnant animals early after insemination, and rectal palpation is used as a re-check later on to identify early embryonic death and identify animals that need treatment.
The test may also be used to identify open cows before drying out in order to identify animals that may have lost pregnancy later in gestation but were missed being in heat afterwards. “The same blood sample collected from the tail of the cow can be used to test pregnancy and also be used to test for possible diseases that may prevent or impair livestock pregnancy. As a result, the general herd health is improved,” he says.
“A milk-based rapid test is scheduled to be introduced early next year here in Kenya as well, which will make it more convenient to sample animals during milking instead of individually isolating them for blood sampling,” he added
Dr Dhaval confirms that Lancet and IDEXX teams have successfully piloted the test in Kenya working with dairy farmers and veterinarians in the country, and Lancet is now rolling out the test across the country through veterinarians for the benefit livestock farmers.
“Initially we shall work with veterinarians to collect and submit samples to the laboratory whereby results will be out on the same day, and with time we will train veterinarians to be able to run the tests themselves at their veterinary clinics or on the farms for large scale production units. The kits can be ordered through Lancet”, Dhaval said.
Veterinary Doctor and Honorary Secretary of the Kenya Veterinary Association Dr Kenneth Wameyo says early pregnancy diagnosis will boost productivity since Farmers will have their cows calve at intervals of between 380 – 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 and to achieve planned seasons of calving and prescribed calving intervals,” he says. “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.
“This new laboratory test has been shown to be more accurate unlike the manual methods that are estimated to misdiagnose almost half of pregnancies especially in inexperienced hands”, points out Dr Wameyo.
“On the other hand, pregnancy testing using ultrasound, involves inserting a part of the device into the rectum of livestock to take images of the foetus and uterus. It requires fairly expensive equipment and skilled personnel and if the procedure is not done carefully, it can damage sensitive tissue in the animal. Other older methods for pregnancy detection are observation of non-return to heat and observation of physical changes on the animal but one has to wait longer to know”, he said.
Research has shown a pregnancy loss of 1-3.5% when palpation or ultrasound are used for pregnancy diagnosis at 40 – 75 days of gestation. According to livestock experts, absence of regular breeding and calving makes cattle rearing unprofitable and unsustainable. A healthy calf each year is the usual target, hence the need to accurately diagnose pregnancy and confirm open cows.