The 2014 Onderstepoort Pregnancy Diagnosis Challenge



“Breed’n Betsy vs Proefplaas Polly”

8 August -23 September 2014


Dr. Annett Heise ([email protected])
Dr. Dietmar Holm ([email protected])



The Department of Production Animal Studies wishes to acknowledge and thank the main sponsor Zoetis for their generous contribution towards educating the next generation of veterinarians.

Other sponsors that are acknowledged include MSD, and the University of Pretoria (Director: Teaching and Learning, Faculty of Veterinary Science)


Pregnancy Diagnosis (PD) by transrectal palpation in cattle is one of the core services provided by veterinary practices dealing with production animals in South Africa, but also across the world. The purpose of PDs is for the farmer to get valuable information about the future production potential of his/her cows. This information is essential in making decisions about individual animals in a herd, and performing regular PDs has become a routine procedure in almost all cattle production systems. Apart from this, performing PDs is often the first veterinary involvement in cattle herds where veterinary services are not sufficiently utilised, and provides the gateway to preventative veterinary programmes in such farms.

Despite the development of ultrasound technology, which has become financially more accessible recently, and also the development of other new technologies that can provide reasonably accurate pregnancy information, transrectal palpation is still the preferred method for most farmers and veterinary practices due to its speed, accuracy and cost efficiency. A systematic approach to PD by transrectal palpation has been well described and is generally accepted, however acceptable accuracy can only be achieved by veterinarians after a significant amount of experience in transrectal palpation of both pregnant and non-pregnant cows. Accurate ageing of the conceptus, especially after 16 weeks of gestation, requires even more experience and skill.

Private veterinary practitioners in South Africa regularly mention the deficiency in PD skills of recently qualified veterinarians employed in their practices, and although it is generally accepted that further training should be provided, newly qualified veterinarians that are skilled in performing PDs will be an asset to any prospective employer. This is only realistically achievable when students are sufficiently motivated to obtain additional experience to what is offered in the veterinary curriculum. Pregnancy diagnosis in cows was indicated by private practitioners as being one of the key skills required from recently graduated veterinarians, as this is a commmon activity in any rural veterinary practice and provides access to new potential clientèle to the young vet.

The Section of Reproduction obtained specially designed manikins from Australia –Breed’n Betsies- that have been purposefully designed for the training of pregnancy diagnosis and artificial insemination in cows. The conventional method of student training in pregnancy diagnosis is based on theoretical training followed by a practical session on a herd of cows where students are typically exposed in groups of 25 to 30 students per practical session. Much time and money is spent on planning and student transport for such sessions, whereas the benefit from these sessions remains unknown.

Aims of the 2014 OP PD Challenge:

  1. To improve the morale of veterinary students and to promote a culture of teamwork, self-learning and peer instruction.
  2. To create an awareness for excellence in practical veterinary skills amongst students and lecturers.
  3. To assess different training methods for PD in undergraduate veterinary students, in order to improve veterinary education (simulator: Breed’n Betsy vs live cows).
  4. To stimulate the interest of students in the production animal industry using  a competition based project and social media platforms.

How the OP PD Challenge worked:


BVSc IV students were divided into 6 practical groups, each group consisting of 22 students. Three groups were trained during the first phase of the project on “Breed’n Betsy” simulators, and the other 3 groups were trained on live cows. Training consisted of only practical training, and students were expected to revise the theory of pregnancy diagnosis before these practical sessions. Each student was also requested to hand in his/her notes on what was achieved during the training session at completion.  Although “Breed’n Betsies” were not be made available for students to train on outside of the scheduled training sessions, students were not be prevented to obtain additional training or experience at their own initiative. In fact, such initiative was encouraged.

The Challenge:

During the second phase of the project, the accuracy of the pregnancy diagnosis skills of each student was tested on a subset of 6 cows from a herd of beef cattle, given a time limit of 12 minutes. The cows were examined by an experienced veterinarian a few days prior to the event, and the findings of this veterinarian were assumed the true pregnancy status of each cow. The accuracy will be defined as the Youdin index, being Sensitivity + Specificity – 1. The Sensitivity will be defined as the ability of the student to correctly identify a pregnant cow (correctly identified pregnant cows ÷ total number of pregnant cows), while the Specificity will be defined as the ability of the student to correctly identify a non-pregnant (open) cow (correctly identified open cows ÷ total number of open cows). The data capture sheets were used to record the data for each student.
From each training cohort of students (Breed’n Betsy or live cows) the 6 students with the highest accuracy were nominated to take part in the final phase of the project. During this phase, the 12 finalists’ PD accuracy was determined in a similar way on another herd of cattle, this time on a subset of 12 cows and a time limit of 12 minutes. The OP PD Champion was determined using the Youdin index as described above and received an ultrasound machine as the first prize at the prize giving ceremony (with compliments of Zoetis), that was held at Onderstepoort on 23 September. This event was used to thank all the sponsors, hand out result sheets/ feedback reports to all students and to hand out other prizes for all 12 finalists as well as other individuals and groups.

Congratulations to all finalists and especially the winner, Ms Kelsey Tratschler!!


A special page on Facebook ( has been created for students to post their experiences, pictures and videos during the course of this project. Lecturers and sponsors will also use this page to post information. The group that makes the best contributions will receive a special prize.