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Sheep producers push for relaxed ultrasound tech rules

Currently, only vets can provide ultrasound preg checking on a flock that isn’t theirs or their employer’s

Lamb producers say ewe nutritional needs vary so greatly depending on the number of lambs being carried that producers need reliable and affordable access to ultrasound services.

Sheep producers want access to contract services for ultrasound preg checking, something they currently have to invest in on their own, or arrange through a veterinarian visit.

Manitoba Sheep chair Morgan Moore says making room for contracted ultrasound preg checks, from technicians accredited under an incoming Canadian Sheep Federation framework, would fill a critical gap in the system.

“Sheep have huge nutritional variability in terms of their requirements, depending on the number of fetuses that they’re carrying,” he said.

Why it matters: Sheep producers say ultrasound preg checking is important for farm planning, but getting hold of a vet can be a challenge.

He added that variability is one thing that separates the sheep industry from cattle, where one calf per animal is more typical.

“You would just account for the stage of gestation,” he said. “In sheep, it actually takes a different level of management because you might be feeding a single or twins or triplets or quadruplets, so you need to be feeding your ewes accordingly.”

At the same time, he said, the service is important for the sheep sector’s more accelerated production cycle. Open ewes that caught quickly can then be re-exposed in the next cycle.

Under the vision presented by Manitoba Sheep, ultrasound technicians would focus solely on preg checking and would not offer any veterinary advice. All other animal health issues would still involve a veterinarian.

Those technicians would need to be verified under the accreditation framework currently being developed by the Canadian Sheep Federation before starting work, Moore said.

The current system, however, is enshrined in legislation.

Manitoba’s Veterinary Medicine Act lays out pregnancy detection under the definition of veterinary medicine. Furthermore, it states, only licensed members of the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA), a vet employed by a veterinary corporation or certain technicians (of which ultrasound technicians are not listed) can provide anything counted as veterinary medicine. Those technicians who are included must be working under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Contract ultrasound technicians, as Manitoba Sheep has proposed, could be allowed in two ways, MVMA executive director Andrea Lear said. The Veterinary Medical Act could be amended, or an MVMA bylaw could create a new category, allowing ultrasound technicians to provide the service under vet supervision, similar to other technicians on the list.

Lear also noted that a vet visit usually goes far beyond the single service they are called out to do. It usually does double duty as a chance to discuss vaccination programs, biosecurity, nutrition and any other health issues.

There is an exemption on veterinary practice for the owner of an animal or an employee of the owner, she noted — something that allows, for example, pig barns to do their own in-house pregnancy detection.

There are ultrasound technicians in Manitoba who could quickly mobilize as a contract service for sheep, Moore said. Some producers have also bought their own ultrasound technology and have been trained with it, but are currently limited to tending their own flocks.

“In order for any kind of accuracy in fetal counting, it takes a lot of repeated practice to develop the specialization,” he said. “That’s just not something that the typical veterinarian is able to do. (There’s) not a lot of interest in putting the time in to develop that specialty and then, quite frankly, the flip side to the coin is that ultrasound technicians in other parts of the world don’t charge at the same rates as the veterinarians do.”

Sheep producers have said it is often difficult to find a veterinarian to come and provide the service, especially during peak parts of the season.

Lear, however, argued veterinarians will, “bridge the gap,” given the jump for veterinarian demand in the sheep sector. As well as growth in the sector itself, she noted, new antimicrobial rules in 2018 mean a producer must access those medications through a prescription, meaning yet more demand for veterinarians.

“With increased demand, veterinarians will seek continuing education on the subject to ensure they can deliver excellent veterinary medicine,” she said. “The MVMA will continue to provide local small-ruminant training to its members. And, there are a variety of continuing education courses available to veterinarians outside of the MVMA. And, veterinary students have greater exposure to small ruminants with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine small-ruminant rotation.”

Next steps

Manitoba Sheep’s vision would have to wait on a finalized Canadian Sheep Federation accreditation framework, regardless of any changes needed in province.

There is currently no timeline for the accreditation program, Moore said.

The Keystone Agricultural Producers, meanwhile, has since taken up the torch on the issue. Manitoba sheep producers put forward a successful resolution at this year’s KAP annual meeting to push for the creation of such a contract service.

Alanna Gray, KAP policy manager, said the resolution has come under KAP’s livestock policy committee. Initial talks have been had with the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association.

“We’ll have to determine what some good next steps will be on how we can move forward, considering it would likely be a legislative change,” she said.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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