Identifying the need for a new service for clients and then crunching the numbers for equipment, training, marketing and maintenance isn’t done lightly when the investment can eventually add up into the tens of thousands of dollars. However, if it’s the right decision, it can be a worthy investment.

Jessica Laurin, DVM, The Animal Center of Marion County, Marion, Kan., made such a decision when she invested in offering reproductive ultrasound for her beef cattle clients on the edge of the Flint Hills.

“I wanted to learn something new, and I enjoy using the ultrasound,” says Laurin. “It puts pregnancy checking into the 21st century and lets us bring more value to the table. It gives producers more options, and another chance for us to be on the farm and working with their programs.” (See Economics, Part 4)

Laurin explains it first was more of a niche for her, to work with producers in intensive reproductive programs such as those wanting to know if embryo transfer or artificial insemination was working in their herd. “Now I have some other producers looking at it as another management option. One example is a producer wanting to get his replacement heifers checked quicker so he knows if there are open heifers that can be sold early in the fall.”

Due diligence
Laurin spent some time investigating ultrasound options. “I wanted something portable, that would allow me free movement around and away from the chute. I also wanted to be able to use the system in direct daylight. I had an older ultrasound that I had started using, but I had to be indoors to use it effectively and I had to protect it at the chute in case cattle moved the wrong way.”

The system she purchased (Easi Scan) is small, has a battery pack and goggles, and allows her  to move in, around and away from the chute without having to unhook herself from the unit.

Laurin had been learning a lot on her own in the past three years before she purchased the portable unit. Laurin went to a reproductive seminar sponsored years ago at Kansas State University, where she attended a wet lab on fetal sexing. “That helped me start with the visualization,” she says. “I found the best learning tool was a producer willing to work with me, who had AI dates. It didn’t take long to find the pregnancy, and by knowing the AI dates, it gave me the opportunity to learn aging. When starting to learn, I hand palpated every cow that I ultrasounded.” 

Laurin has also used the “Drost Project” information by Maarten Drost on the University of Florida Web site to review ultrasound photos

Making it work
To calculate how to charge for these new services, Laurin looked at lifespan of the equipment, added 20% for upkeep and repairs, divided that cost by lifespan, estimated how many times a month or year she expected to use it, and divided yearly cost by times used, then multiplied that by a markup factor.

Laurin then actively marketed the ultrasound services. “We set up open houses at the two clinics we service,” she explains. “I had been talking to producers ahead of time about getting the ultrasound, and already had some work lined up for it when it got here.”

Her staff made postcard invitations and mailed them out to producers ahead of the open house, that both invited them to the open house and talked about the ultrasound. “I had thought about live demonstrations at the open house, but instead I made a slide show of the pictures we take during preg checks,” she says. “I felt that bringing in a few short bred cows for demo may lead to them losing calves, and unless I owned them, I wasn’t going to risk a producer’s livelihood by doing so. I had tried to look for short bred feedlot heifers to use, but ran out of time trying to find them.”

So far, so good. Laurin says the reaction from clients to the new service has been positive. “It gives producers another tool to manage their herd.”