Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ultrasounding Heifers

Last week we preg-checked our heifers, using ultrasound technology. You can read more about why we preg-check our cows here.
We chose to ultrasound the heifers because we wanted to be able to sort them based on when they will calve. Using ultrasound can also tell ranchers the sex of each calf, and is accurate almost to the day of when a heifer or cow will calve. If a vet is "arming" (using his hand) to preg-check, he can only tell you if she's pregnant or open, and if she's early or late. Exact calving dates and calf sex aren't possible that way.
Here's what we did:

We gathered, and loaded about half of them in the alleyway. That bright yellow extension cord provided power to the ultrasound machine.

About six at a time were brought down to our tub. That stick on the right side of the picture is my uncle bringing a bunch down.

From the tub they were loaded into a single-file alleyway. This alley is also adjustable, which means you can make it wider or narrower, depending on what you're working on a given day.

The view facing the other direction. From this alley they are loaded into the chute, where each heifer is preg checked and worked.

Here's my mom loading one into the chute. The lady in the blue is the vet, who was really nice to work with. Our heifers were really loose (that means their manure had a lot of moisture in it, and made a big mess). You can see how much of a mess they made on the vet. Once in the chute, she would open that door in front of her to gain access to the back of the heifer.

Here comes one. My dad and brother converted our old Powder River chute to hydraulics, which are run off a feed pickup that has a hydraulic hay feeder on it. Holly was holding the vaccine gun for dad, who was running the chute. He just had surgery about three weeks ago, and has to be careful how much he lifts and strains.

He caught each one, like so...

and the vet quickly and efficiently went to work. First she opened the gate, and secured it so the next heifer in the alley couldn't run her over. Then she inserted the reader tip of her ultrasound machine into the heifers rectum, and looked at her computer screen (it's in that black box by the chute), to see if there was a calf in the heifer's uterus.

Here is the reader on her ultrasound machine, and how she holds it when preg-checking.

She covers the cord to prevent manure from getting on it. The cord is attached to her computer screen...

Which looks like this. She would slide the tip around until she saw the picture she needed, then she would call if the heifer was early, late or open. We gave her a set of dates, based on our breeding dates, and that's what she based early or late on. Open means the heifer wasn't pregnant.

My mom and I swapped out between pushing them up the single-file alley and recording each heifers information. Here's mom writing down a heifers ear tag number and when she will calve.

We were all very interested in how everything worked, since this was our first year ultrasounding. Here's my dad watching the computer screen and asking the vet about different things that were showing up on it. A good vet is a great source of information for ranchers.

If a heifer was called pregnant, a flurry of activity occured. First, she was given a shot to protect her pregnancy against multiple diseases. The ones we're most concerned about are Vibrio (Vibriosis), a sexually transmitted disease in cattle, and BVD.

Second she was given a number brand to indicate the year she was born.

These heifers all got a big "O" on their left shoulder, so we know each one was born in 2010. With a year number brand there is never any guesssing on a cow's age, even if she loses her ear tag. We sell any cows over a certain age. This is done for a number of reasons - in part because as cows age they lose and wear out teeth, and cant eat enough to stay in good condition.

After she's branded, dad pours her. Pour-on kills numerous internal and external parasites, flys and other "icky's." You can read more about pouring cattle here.

You do not want to breathe the fumes of this stuff. We had a member of our family almost die from breathing pour-on fumes all day when he was branding and pouring yearlings. Brand first, then pour!

Then the heifer is let out, and the next one comes into the chute. It took us between 2 and 2.5 hours to do 100 heifers, to give you an idea of how long this process takes.

If a heifer is open, she gets a bright yellow "O," for open, on each hip. She doesn't get a number brand, or a pregnancy shot. These heifers will be sold. They failed their first test as a future member of our cowherd, and are the bottom percentage in the area of fertility. The picture shows both a bred heifer, and one that was open.

Following preg-checking, the open heifers were sorted off, and put in another pasture for a few days prior to being taken to the sale. The pregnant heifers were trailed back to their pasture, where they'll stay for another couple months.

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