Ultrasound Picture

Veterinarian Cale Bjornstad pregnancy testing a cow in Geyser.

Montana's Family Farms have continued the circle of life for thousands of years so farmers and ranchers can make a living. We've told you about the science behind breeding, now we’re taking a closer look into the graphic process veterinarians must go through just to see if the cows are carrying a baby.

First Walter Schweitzer, President of the Montana Farmers Union, splits his cattle into calving groups. His daughter Kelsey carefully records every step along the way to track every cow's progress.

"The main reason we do that is for disease control. It's isolating so that a virus doesn't spread from one group to another," said Schweitzer. 

Next he calls in a vet to ultrasound early for accurate birth date prediction. Once he's all suited up with full arm-length gloves and an apron, Veterinarian Cale Bjornstad with Indian Hammer Vet. Service heads south to check over 170 heifer and cow. This process requires him to get up close and very personal with each animal, feeling through their body with an ultrasound machine in hand. 

"That cow poop does get deep. We always use the big glove so our arm doesn't get messy and usually a shield otherwise," explains Bjornstad. 

According to Schweitzer, "There could be some that are open that are still pregnant because he can't detect less than 30 days pregnant. I hope that at least 90% of them are going to be pregnant. The worst-case scenario is a whole bunch of them open. Then you got to start worrying if you've got some other disease."

Diseases could come from a sick bull or even from his neighbor's herd, "You risk fence line transmission. And so if you've got them inoculated there's a better chance they won't catch it across the fence line," said Schweitzer.

Just like human Mamas, cows need to be their healthiest to hold a calf and help them keep the baby to term. 

"We give them inoculations against bacterial diseases and viruses."

The vet also gives booster shots to all new calves born this Spring because "it makes them a healthier calf going into the feedlot." 

That means Walt could get more money for them once sold. The ultrasound process is a team effort from start to finish, "We help these producers A keep their animals healthy and try to help them get as much production out of them than we can. If we can make them more productive, that's better for everybody," says Bjronstad.

Walt simply sticks to his motto to bring in the cash, "I want 'em to calve easy, I want them to wean big, and then I'm looking at how efficient they finish. That's how I make money for my customers."

As long as each pregnancy goes well, Walt can expect new calves on his farm sometime in mid-March. 

Montana Family Farms is sponsored by the Montana Farmers Union. Each story focuses on Walter Schweitzer’s life on the farm and a bigger impact on the industry across the Treasure State and beyond.

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