A BCF case study comparing bovine ultrasound and manual palpation and blood testing.

Bovine ultrasound vs. manual palpation and blood testing

A BCF case study comparing bovine ultrasound, manual palpation and blood testing.

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Bovine ultrasound vs. manual palpation and blood testing

You have a choice of on-farm tools for identifying reproductive tract structures (such as the corpus luteum) and determining pregnancy status: ultrasonography, manual palpation and blood testing.

Manual palpation is the traditional way of identifying pregnant or open cows. During manual palpation, your arm enters the rectum and the reproductive tract is palpated through the rectal wall.  Limitations of this procedure include some structures being incorrectly identified (i.e. follicular versus luteal cysts) and the viability of the fetus cannot be easily determined.

Blood testing of serum progesterone is another method to determine whether or not a cow is pregnant. This test detects the level of the hormone progesterone in the cow’s circulation. Progesterone levels are elevated when a cow is pregnant. The main limitation of this method is that it can take 3-5 days to receive results. Therefore, any treatments or actions taken by the vet or farmer, such as initiating a synchronization protocol, may be delayed – costing you time and money.

Ultrasound is the most accurate tool for evaluating the reproductive tract of the cow. To perform an ultrasound exam of the cow, you cup the probe in a gloved and lubricated hand, and insert your arm into the rectum. The probe is then placed firmly on the floor or the rectum overlying the reproductive organs and the ultrasound image is created. Compared to relying on the texture and location of structures when performing manual palpation, being able to see the ovarian and uterine structures enables you to more thoroughly and accurately evaluate the reproductive tract.


The main clinical advantages of the ultrasound over other tools are:

  • Earlier pregnancy detection (dependent on the skill and experience of the ultrasound user)
  • Confirmation of fetal viability
  • Identification of twins
  • Fetal aging
  • Fetal gender determination
  • Evaluation of ovarian and uterine structures
  • Determine the best time for insemination with more accuracy compare to manual palpation
  • Multiple non-reproductive applications

  • Cost figured with hourly rate of $190 and 70 cows/hour
  • Cost figured from cost of supplies and $20/hour farm labor checking 60 cows/hour
  • Cost figured with hourly rate of $170 and 60 cows/hour

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