Ultrasound on livestock

By Dick Mason, The Observer December 12, 2012 02:14 pm

La Grande High School Agriculture and Natural Resources teacher Paul Anderes watches a monitor while holding an ultrasound probe on a sheep Friday at the Grande Ronde Angus Ranch. Anderes was at a training session with other local agriculture educators. DICK MASON - The Observer
La Grande High School Agriculture and Natural Resources teacher Paul Anderes watches a monitor while holding an ultrasound probe on a sheep Friday at the Grande Ronde Angus Ranch. Anderes was at a training session with other local agriculture educators. DICK MASON - The Observer

High school agriculture students in Baker, Union and Wallowa counties will soon learn how to use high-tech tool that can reveal carcass quality and if an animal is pregnant 

High school agriculture students in Northeast Oregon will soon be learning to do what only health professionals normally once did — operate ultrasound machines to examine body tissues.

Fourteen high schools in Northeast Oregon are set to gain access to a new Aloka SSD-550V ultrasound machine that they will share beginning this winter. The ultrasound machine is designed to provide internal images of livestock including cattle, goats, sheep and swine. The images are used to determine the carcass quality of livestock and for reproductive purposes.

 The images indicate carcass quality by revealing the volume of muscle, the ribeye area of cattle and the amount of internal fat present. Internal fat adds tenderness and flavor. 

“You can literally look inside to see what will be produced,” said La Grande High School agriculture and natural resources teacher Paul Anderes. 

The ultrasound machine helps with reproduction by revealing whether an animal is pregnant. This allows ranchers to operate more efficiently. For example, those using ultrasound machines no longer waste resources feeding animals additional food because they thought they were pregnant but were not.  

Anderes said the ultrasound machine is an important addition to the agriculture programs at Northeast Oregon high schools.

“This is technology students will be expected to know how to apply. It is on the cutting edge,” the LHS teacher said.

There is a tremendous advantage to learning that an animal has a good carcass while it is alive rather than waiting until it has been killed, said Dave Yost, an agriculture teacher at Joseph High School. 

 Yost explained that the quality of an animal’s meat is due in large part to genetics. Ranchers try to breed offspring and other close relatives of animals with good carcasses to promote the production of higher quality, tender meat. 

Prior to the availability of ultrasound equipment for livestock, ranchers could not tell if an animal had a good carcass until it had been killed. This meant they could not begin breeding for good carcasses until the animal was dead. 

Today, however, ranchers can begin doing this two to three years before an animal is killed if an ultrasound reveals it has a good carcass. 

“You can begin passing on the quality sooner,” Yost said. “You don’t have to wait for the information.”

When using the ultrasound machine, a small portion of an animal’s hide covering is shaved. Next the exposed area is covered with an oily substance and a probe is placed over it. Internal images then appear on a monitor.

Agriculture educators were taught how to use the machine Friday in the Imbler area by Mark Henry of the Centralized Ultrasound Processing Lab in Ames, Iowa. Henry showed it can be used on cattle, sheep and swine. Henry also explained how to analyze images on an ultrasound machine.

The Aloka SSD-550V schools in Northeast Oregon will be using was purchased for $32,000 with funds the Grant County Education Service District received via a grant from
the Oregon Department of Education.

The high schools that will have access to the to the ultrasound machine include La Grande, Cove, Elgin, Enterprise, Imbler, Joseph, Wallowa, North Powder, Union, Baker, Pine-Eagle, Monument, Dayville, Grant Union and Long Creek. 

At LHS, agriculture students who achieve a level of mastery in using the ultrasound machine will be eligible to receive community college credits. The students will be able to do this via a cooperative program involving LHS and Treasure Valley Community College.

Henry said ranchers have been using ultrasound machines to evaluate cattle for about a dozen years. Ultrasound machines have been used to evaluate other livestock for a shorter time period, Henry said. 

“It is cool technology.’’