High-Tech Care for the Family Cow: How Veterinary Ultrasound Machines Are Improving Bovine Health

Owning a dairy cow to supply fresh, nutritious milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products is becoming a popular adventure for more and more families as they seek to find sources for the highest-quality food. But even though humans have been tending and milking dairy animals for thousands of years, being responsible for the care of a such a large animal still be very challenging, especially if an injury, illness, or calving problem arises. Unlike a dog or cat that can be placed in the car and driven to the veterinarian's office for treatment, a dairy animal may need to be diagnosed and treated in a pasture, barn, or paddock. Luckily, recent advancements in medical equipment have made it possible for veterinarians to utilize technology when treating cows and other large animals outside the comfort of well-equipped clinics.

Uterine health and fertility issues

A dairy cow that fails to become pregnant after numerous exposures to live cover or attempts at artificial insemination (AI) may be suffering from a number of issues, including: 

  • bovine uterine or ovarian cysts
  • the presence of a mummified calf
  • scar tissue or other internal issues relating to a difficult calving experience in the past
  • nutritional or other issues that could interfere with ovulation or successful impregnation

In the past, diagnosing these conditions often ranged from difficult to impossible, as cow owners and veterinarians were forced to rely on manual examinations that could not always offer enough viable information to determine the problem and find the best treatment. X-ray technology was helpful, but in cases where the cow could not be easily transported to the vet's clinic or an animal hospital to obtain an x-ray, owners often ended up culling the animals. 

Now, however, with the development of portable, affordable ultrasound machines, family cows that are having difficulty conceiving or experiencing other issues can usually be diagnosed easily without leaving their home. If a mummified calf, cyst, or other obstruction is impacting the cow's reproductive health, the ultrasound can offer real insight that veterinarians can use to develop and administer treatment to alleviate the problem. In cases where tumors, scar tissue, or internal damage will prevent the cow from conceiving in the future, the information from the ultrasound can help the owner make an informed decision about the best way to proceed. 

Confirming pregnancy and estimating gestation points

Another way in which portable veterinary ultrasound technology is helping family cow owners is by helping to confirm pregnancy and estimate the stage of gestation. In cases where the cow is kept with a bull or has had access to a bull while ovulating, the cow owner may not know when or if she has actually become pregnant. Because dairy cows require a dry period of usually 60 days immediately preceding the birth of a new calf, cow owners must know when to stop milking them to allow the cow to stop lactating well before her next calf is born.

This dry period immediately before bearing a new calf provides the cow time to build her body condition to withstand the stress of calving as well as give her body time to create the colostrum that her new calf will need to survive. By using a portable ultrasound machine, a veterinarian or vet tech can offer the cow owner clear information about the stage of gestation the cow is currently in and a close approximation of the date when the new calf will likely be born. 

If you are a family cow owner or are considering becoming one in the near future, take time now to consult with your veterinarian about the many ways in which portable ultrasound machines and other technology can help you provide the best possible care for your family cow.