Goat ultrasound road trip
Last weekend, I traveled around England scanning goats. Despite having a large number of goat breeders in our farm animal scanning Facebook group, I’d never had much hands-on experience myself, as the vast majority of our goat breeder group members are in the USA. Ultrasound scanning to confirm pregnancy in goats is very popular in the States, even on small farms. I believe the greater distances between the farms and their local scanner or veterinarian is a major contributing factor, but also, goat breeding just seems to be a lot bigger – and perhaps started in earnest earlier – in the States at the moment, compared with here in the United Kingdom where it seems to still be expanding.
I brought three different ultrasound machines with me to put through their paces: the handheld Kai Xin MSU3 with a 3.5MHz mechanical sector probe, the Scan Pad with a 2.5 – 5MHz convex probe, and the Sonoscape S6v with a 3.5 – 7MHz microconvex probe.
Stop 1: Bridge Farm
Our first stop on Friday was at Bridge Farm in Hereford. Lisa had lined up 44 goats, all around 3 months in kid. Despite the majority of the goats being quite big (Sannens, with a few smaller Toggenburgs) the microconvex probe performed very well in all of them, getting some really beautiful images.
The video below is a selection of some of the pregnancies. Finding an in-kid goat at this stage of gestation was relatively simple (and became very quick with practice), with the cotyledons being a striking confirmation of a pregnancy almost as soon as the transducer made contact with the skin. Confirming that the pregnancy was viable by locating a heartbeat could be more challenging in those further along, but invariably, the kid would make itself known with a twitch or the kick of a leg.
Stop 2: Woodhall Farm
Our next stop was Woodhall Farm in Worcestershire. With a veterinary background herself, Sharon’s beautiful home is surrounded by animals of all types. We scanned does Rose and Gwen, who walked happily beside Sharon on a lead, and then enjoyed a tour of some of the farm, accompanied by a dog and a rhea. My brother Sean was kindly given a rhea egg to take home, which couldn’t be a better gift for someone who loves cooking unusual foods!
I tried both the Scan Pad and the Sonoscape S6v on Sharon’s farm, but found both difficult to use in the sunshine (we were very lucky with the weather for our entire trip). In the end, I resorted to saving clips ‘blind’ – I knew I was in the right place for pregnancy detection, so I just saved several clips to review afterwards indoors. Many people have asked me before about the reflectivity of the ultrasound screen, and now I can really appreciate first hand just how critical that can be if you are unable to scan under any cover.
Stop 3: Phoebe’s Farm
After learning my lesson about bright sunlight, we opted for the shelter in Phoebe’s field for the next set of scans. We used the Scan Pad here, because there was no access to mains electricity, and the Scan Pad has its own emergency internal battery which can last up to an hour when fully charged – lucky, because some of Phoebe’s goats took quite some persuading to come in for their scan!
The lower frequency convex probe gave excellent penetration, and we got some great images. Phoebe had a turn herself, and got a fantastic shot of a kid almost immediately, with the spine, ribs and heartbeat in view. She naturally held the transducer steadily onto the skin, with full contact along the entire footprint – I couldn’t believe it was her first ever ultrasound scan! Here’s Phoebe’s video:
Stop 4: Bassettwood Farms
Our first stop on Saturday was at Bassettwood Farms, in the picturesque surroundings of the Peak District. Sarah runs a very busy farm, B&B and tea rooms, all of which look immaculate. These were the first pygmy goats of our trip, so we were pretty excited. I hadn’t seen a pygmy in around 5 years, and that was when I was trialing a Draminski Pregnancy Detector (with only limited success) – I’d never performed a full pregnancy scan on one before.
Sarah’s goats were very curious about the proceedings – only one really tried to give us the slip! The Scan Pad worked perfectly in these conditions. Sarah had mentioned that she also had a pregnant pig, so after we scanned all the goats, we went over to have a look at her. Now seemed like the perfect time to try the MSU3; highly portable (useful for a pig that didn’t want to stand still), and low frequency (providing high penetration for a much bigger animal).
I was extremely impressed with the quality of the images for such a cost-effective system (under £1000), before even touching the settings. Sarah had a go herself, and within about 30 seconds, she managed to get an entire piglet on screen. We could tell that the pregnancy was quite advanced, because the rib cage was well formed. Even from distance in this photograph, it’s easy to appreciate the acoustic shadowing – an artifact that occurs distal to solidified bone, because the bone absorbs and reflects all of the ultrasound, preventing any ultrasound waves from penetrating beyond it.
The tiny flicker of a heartbeat was even visible on the screen.
Pit Stop: Tissington
We stopped at Tissington, a few minutes from Bassettwood Farms, to meet up with Sammy who had helped to organise the trip and stock up on supplies for lunch at Herbert’s English Tea Rooms.
Stop 5: Newholme Farm
After a couple of hours’ drive, we arrived at Lucy’s farm in Yorkshire.
I first tried the Scan Pad with the larger convex probe, but the day had become so sunny, it was difficult to see with the reflections on the screen. I switched to the Sonoscape S6 for the next few goats, and then to the MSU3, which actually performed best of all because I was able to tilt it away from the light.
Stop 6: Manor House Farm
Our final stop for the day was at Manor House Farm in Yorkshire, where Karen had one of her goats ready for me to scan. I used the Scan Pad this time, as we were completely under cover. We then took a quick detour to the coast, before heading to Chesterfield for the night.
Stop 7: Redgate Farm
Our first stop on Sunday was Redgate Farm in Leicestershire. The animal sanctuary here houses goats, sheep, horses, ducks, rabbits, chickens and cats! Rhona showed us to the two does, who were a little wary at first, but relaxed after a couple of minutes. I tried both the Scan Pad and MSU3, both running off their batteries and both of which gave very clear images.
Stop 8: Rainbows End
Our final stop of the trip was a little closer to home, at Rainbows End Farm in Essex. I began with the Scan Pad and large convex probe, which was performing well inside the shelter of Kristy’s barn, but her Boer goats really didn’t like the feeling of the probe on their skin. They kept trying to raise their back leg to kick it off, so I switched to the smaller microconvex probe of the S6 to be able to get in under their leg more easily, which they seemed not to mind as much. I don’t know if this behaviour was unique to Kristy’s animals, or something to do with their breed, but a small probe is definitely a benefit here.
8 farms and over 80 goats (and a pig!) later, we returned to Bromley in Kent. I learnt a number of important lessons from the tip, and each of the three machines had its pros and cons:
Sonoscape S6 (valued at around £6500 + VAT):
- Pros: This machine was the best for storing video clips due to its speed, but this is unlikely to be important to the majority of people performing goat scans.
- Cons: No battery, so access to mains electricity is a necessity.
Available from: Vet Image Solutions, United Kingdom
Scan Pad Portable Ultrasound (valued at around £2350 + VAT):
- Pros: This is the most popular scanner for goat breeders, and it’s easy to see why. Crystal clear image quality, just as good as the far more expensive S6. Can be equipped with either a convex or a microconvex probe.
- Cons: Saving video clips takes a few seconds, but can be done whilst switching animals. Battery life is limited to around 60 minutes, so needs to be charged between uses or used on farms with access to electricity. We didn’t experience any problems in this regard, as all larger farms had extension leads, but it could be seen as an inconvenience by some.
Available from: Varies by location. Visit Portable Ultrasound Machines to find your local supplier.
MSU3 Handheld Ultrasound Machine (valued at around £815 + VAT):
- Pros: This little scanner was the greatest surprise of the trip. For ease of use, the MSU3 definitely gets a 10/10, and I was amazed at the image quality such a tiny system could deliver. It also has useful quick image optimisation options, such as a depth control with three preset levels that you can quickly toggle between.
- Cons: Although images can be saved onto an external memory card, this machine is not ideal for those wanting to save images and videos to share with others. It’s a great yes/no machine, to confirm or rule out pregnancy quickly and easily.
Available from: MSU Ultrasound
As well as the pregnancy images, some of which have been shared here, we also collected images of hydrometra / cloudburst pregnancy, and possibly cystic ovaries. Once these images have been verified, they will be shared in the members’ only educational area. Anybody whose goats were scanned on this trip is also welcome to view these images.
With thanks to:
- The Ladies Who Love Livestock Facebook group
- Everyone who volunteered their time and goats: Lisa and her husband, Sharon, Phoebe and her mother, Sarah, Lucy and her husband, Karen, Rhona and her colleagues, and Kristy.
- Sammy for her help in organising the event
- My brother Sean for accompanying me and taking some great photos!
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