Ultrasound aids early management decisions for dairies

Scott Poock, University of Missouri Extension Veterinarian, determines the sex of a fetus in a cow using portable ultrasound. MFT photo by Mindy Ward

Veterinarians have been diagnosing pregnancy in cattle with ultrasound for years. Today, early pregnancy detection along with accurate fetal staging has become popular, especially for heifers that have gone through an artificial insemination program.

Below is a discussion on the benefits of fetal staging in the beef industry.

Accurate pregnancy diagnosis of early embryos

We can accurately diagnose pregnancy down to 30 days bred with an ultrasound. Finding pregnancies sooner rather than later can help producers save on feed costs by culling the late calvers.

Calling twins

Many herds have cows that consistently have double ovulate resulting in twins. Being able to call them as twins during ultrasounding can have a huge benefit for the producer as they get deep into calving.

Calving Groups

Being able to sort cows into calving groups can help make calving season go smoothly. Producers can feed and plan accordingly so that mom has enough condition to start milking when she needs to and so that no babies are born in the snow.

Marketing advantages

Cows and heifers that have been ultrasounded can be grouped by gestation date and sold accordingly. We can also group by the sex of the calf which we often do for bucking stock and club calves.

Time of year

Every veterinarian is different on how late they can fetal stage. Personally, I like to stage between 45-90 days because then the fetus hasn’t dropped below the pelvis yet and I can easily get the view that I need. Many cattle are bred between 45-90 days in August-September which means nice weather for pregnancy checking too.

Speed advantage

The ultrasound is extremely fast especially when we are just calling bred or open. Many machines have an attachment that allows the veterinarian to be arm-free which can be even faster; something both producers and the veterinarians like when it’s -20 degrees F.

Assessing fetal viability

Without even thinking about it when we are ultrasounding, we are always looking at the fetal membranes, fluids, and fetal motion, which help us assess if the fetus is viable. The fetal heart rate can also be assessed although we do not do this routinely unless we think something is abnormal.

Assessing the opens

It is nice to be able to both palpate and ultrasound the open uterus for any fluid that may be present or abnormalities. We also can look at the ovaries and make sure there are not any abnormalities there which made them be open.

Two-way check

Being able to see the fetal membranes, fluids, cotyledons (buttons), and fetus as well as feel them is a great way to double check yourself as a veterinarian; by both sight and feel. We can also show our producers their future calves by letting them watch the ultrasound screen which can be fun and educational.


Fetal staging with ultrasound pregnancy checking has many benefits. If you know that your cattle are between 45-90 days bred and would like your herd ultrasounded, call your local vet today!

Dr. Lainie Kringen-Scholtz is Associate Veterinarian at Animal Medical Care, based in Brookings, South Dakota.

The Vet Report is provided in conjunction with Prairie View Veterinary Clinic with locations in Miller, Redfield, Wessington Springs and Highmore, S.D. Questions? Send an email to owner Eric Knock, DVM, at reknock@venturecomm.net or write 321 E. 14th St., Miller, SD 57362.

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