As someone looking to work with cows in the future, rectal palpations are a big part of the job. And quite conveniently, it’s also one of the skills that I am not all that great at. As such, I’m jumping at every chance I can to get more experience.
As part of my production medicine rotation, the school works with the Virginia Department of Corrections herds. On these trips, students get plenty of palpation practice. I went on my first trip the other day. As a learning opportunity, I don’t think it could have gone any better.
In total, there were 100 cows that needed to be pregnancy checked. They had been bred by insemination 61 days earlier and been exposed to a bull shortly thereafter. With two chutes, two cows were brought in at a time. We students got to palpate first and determine if the cow was pregnant, what uterine horn the fetus was in, and how far along in pregnancy the cow was. Afterward, our clinician would check via ultrasound and let us know if we were right.
Reaching into my first cow, I was able to find a small mouse sized fetus in the left horn. Due to the size, I figured this one would be about 60 days old. The ultrasound showed that I was correct with my assessment. After the first couple of cows, I was feeling pretty confident in my ability to find babies. But then the next cow comes into the chute. One of my friends, who had only palpated a few cows before this, wasn’t sure what she was feeling. So I went in and I thought I felt a baby as my friend did. Ultrasound showed that she wasn’t actually pregnant and we were probably feeling uterine tissue overlapping itself.
After the first 30 cows, my arm was really fatigued and I wasn’t able to find much anymore. After doing the record keeping and swapping out with a classmate, I was refreshed and ready to go again. I even tried palpating with my right arm and was surprised that I was actually able to use that one as well (I’ve always used my left in the past). During the course of the day, I was able to find a couple of 35-day pregnancies by palpation, which is really close to the time when you can first feel a pregnancy in a cow.
After six hours of palpating, we all were able to find a handful of pregnancies and were much better off than when we arrived at the farm. The teacher gave each of us a high five for a job well done and then we started the over three-hour return trip to school. My clinical year in veterinary school started off pretty slow, but now I feel like I am finally getting into gear and learning skills that I will use for the rest of my career.