Update from Lindsay Oxby - June 5, 2014

Palpation takes time and practice

This past week I spent four days going on herd health visits with several of the vets at Heartland Veterinary Services. During these visits I got to practice my palpation skills.

Palpation is a skill used to diagnose pregnancy in cows. It is a skill that we do not get to practice a lot at school so it is really important for me to get lots of practice while at my externship. 

In a nutshell, palpation basically involves inserting your arm into a cow’s rectum, removing feces from the cow’s rectum, retracting the uterus, and following along the uterine horns to feel for a pregnancy. It sounds pretty simple! However it is a very difficult skill to learn because you cannot see what you are doing and need to learn to do it all by feel. It then becomes even more difficult if the cow is big, or if the cow is moving, or if the cow is contracting her rectum around your arm!!

Most vets are diagnosing pregnancies in cows that were bred about 30 to 35 days ago. This involves palpating the uterine horn and feeling a small vesicle (the pregnancy!) slip through your fingers. I have now palpated quite a few pregnant cows that are approx. 35 days pregnant and every time I get excited when I feel the vesicle!!!

Palpating is a difficult skill that comes with time and practice. You need to be very sure of yourself because if you call a cow open (not pregnant) many farmers will give her a shot of Lutalyse (prostaglandin) which essentially makes her come into heat quicker. This will also abort any pregnancy that is there so you want to be 100 per cent sure she is open!!!

I have also got to practice my ultrasound skills over the past couple weeks. Ultrasound is also used to diagnose pregnancy in cattle. This skill is difficult, especially getting used to using the probe within the cow’s rectum, but it is a very useful tool!

I have made significant progress with my palpation skills so far during the externship and I am very thankful for the vets teaching me, and the farmers allowing me to palpate their cows. Time to keep practicing!!

Be sure to check out The Externship Project videos

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