Hansen helps ranchers save money by ultrasounding ewes
August 3, 2018
Sammi Hansen has had a soft spot for livestock since she was a little girl growing up on a cow/calf operation in Butte County, South Dakota, near the Orman Dam. "I knew from the time I was a little kid I wanted to do something in the medical field, but my first dream was to become an OB/GYN for humans.
It wasn't until we had to do a c-section on a cow that I realized I could have both things I loved. I could be a doctor for animals and still be able to deliver babies," Hansen said.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine with a doctorate of veterinary medicine in spring 2016, Hansen returned to her home-state to set up her vet practice. "I decided to start my own mobile veterinary clinic called Sammi's Veterinary Services, Prof. LLC, and had it up and running in August 2016 to ultrasound cattle. I started my business small with just an ultrasound, pickup and a cattle chute, but from there I have built it up to be able to fertility test bulls and rams, perform c-sections on both cattle and sheep, handle calving and lambs needs, and most general day-to-day procedures on the ranch," she said.
Despite all the techniques Hansen does on a day-to-day basis, one is still considered somewhat unique. When she purchased her ultrasound machine, she had the opportunity to buy a second probe at a discount. She purchased a small ruminant probe, which gave her the capability of ultrasounding ewes and does for pregnancy diagnosis. It is a part of her job she particularly enjoys. "I first became interested in sheep ultrasound in vet school," she said. "During my clinical year, I took a rotation that focused on small ruminant medicine. It was during this time that I was introduced to ultrasounding sheep, and fell in love with the animals, themselves. It was a service that I could bring back to western South Dakota that could help the farmers and ranchers succeed in their business," she said.
MONEY SAVING PROCEDURE
It is a technique that many sheep ranchers have readily embraced. With the machine, Hansen can tell producers if the ewe is bred or open, determine the age of the fetus within a few days, and detect multiple fetuses. "If I can detect if a ewe is carrying multiple fetuses, it can be very beneficial to the rancher because he can sort those ewes off and feed them differently," she said. "Some producers want to develop feeding groups based on how many fetuses the ewes are carrying to prevent diseases like pregnancy toxemia."
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Determining the number of fetuses is a matter of timing — typically between 45-90 days. "The fetuses have to be less than 90 days old in order to be able to count them," she said. "Once they get past 90 days, they get large enough that it is hard to look past the first fetus to see if there are any others."
The procedure can also save producers money just by knowing if the ewe is open or bred. "If they ultrasound their ewes, they can sell the ones that are open. With rising hay costs, it can save them money by not having to feed an open ewe," she said.
Ultrasounding small ruminants can be very accurate, Hansen said. However, producers need to hold ewes from feed and water for 12 hours prior to the procedure. "A full rumen can interfere with the pregnancy diagnosis, and a full bladder will not allow me to see past it to determine if the ewe is pregnant," she said.
"The accuracy of ultrasound is placed primarily on the individual running the equipment," she said. "To get to where I am today, I used a practice flock over the last year to determine fetal age. We started by fertility testing rams prior to turning them out with the ewes. Then 30 days after turnout, we gathered up the ewes and ultrasounded them. At this point, I could see the fetus of the ewe that was bred the first day. We continued to ultrasound the flock every five days until 80 days post-ram turnout. I used this flock to determine if the aging feature on my Ibex Pro was accurate or not. I found as long as I have the probe positioned correctly on the fetus to get the correct imaging, then the aging was correct. I followed the flock through lambing just to make sure the aging was accurate," she said.
Hansen has ultrasounded as many as 1,082 ewes a day. "Ewe lambs are harder to do and take longer because they are young and don't want to stand still," she said. "It is harder to get a good image if they won't stand still."
In fact, Hansen's husband, Wyatt, created a specialized chute to make ultrasounding ewes easier. "I didn't think I would be ultrasounding ewes my first year as much as I did," she said. "I planned on using it on my parent's small flock of sheep. However, I was approached the last week of January 2017 about pregnancy checking more than 1,600 head of ewes during the first week of February. I knew I couldn't have the producers hold that many ewes for me, so we started researching different types of sheep chutes. Everything we found was made in a different country, and would take three months to get to the U.S., so we decided to design our own chute based off multiple designs."
"I wanted to be able to operate the entire chute by myself, so I utilized the knowledge of several producers and specialists in the area, and we designed our own sheep chute. It has been modified a few times, but is highly functional now," she said.
Hansen is licensed in three states — Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. She is willing to travel, as long as the producer has enough head to justify the trip. She charges $2.50 a ewe for bred/open, a $50 chute set-up fee per site, and $1.50 a mile one-way. For more information about Hansen, she can be reached at (605) 210-0763. She can also be found on facebook at Sammi's Veterinary Services. ❖
— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.