Veterinarian Richard Randle wants beef producers who vaccinate their own cattle to change their thinking — and ways of working.
“You're not working cattle,” Randle told workshop participants at the University of Missouri Thompson Farm in Spickard, Mo. “You're processing food.”
Bruises, scars, and infected lesions from faulty injections reduce the value of beef carcasses. “A vaccination in the first month of a calf's life can be seen 18 to 24 months later,” said Randle, with the Commercial Agriculture Beef Focus Team. The damage shows up at the meat processing plant.
“If meat inspectors see even a needle prick lesion, they'll condemn a 10-pound chunk of meat.” Losses from faulty handling of cattle were running $640 million a year, before producers became aware of the problem.
The first rule for vaccinations is to not inject into the meaty areas of the high-value cuts. “Make your injections in the neck area,” Randle said. “Keep everything in front of the shoulder.”
Randle admitted that the rump area is mighty convenient. It's right there and handy to inject from the back of the chute. “Don't let your vet do it there either,” Randle said. “You've hired the vet to do work for you, so you can say how you want it done.”
A modern working chute that allows easy, and safe, access to the neck helps. Good facilities also help keep you from injecting yourself, he added.
Cleanliness also helps reduce lesions. “It's a simple thing, but take a clean towel to lay over the work table where you lay your syringes and equipment,” Randle said. “A bucket of hot, soapy water can be used for cleaning equipment.”
Fewer of today's vaccines require intra-muscular injections, Randle said. Most can be injected subcutaneous, or sub-Q, just beneath the skin.
Selecting the right needle helps.
“A one-half-inch or three-quarter-inch needle, injected straight in, reaches the layer beneath the hide and above the muscle,” Randle said. “A one-inch needle, inserted at a downward angle also places the medication in the same layer.”
The downward injection helps prevent vaccine from running back out, before the hole seals. “If you're injecting just 2 cc of medicine, it doesn't take much leakage to reduce the efficacy.”
Treating cattle, especially in wet muddy conditions, can make the cattle messy. You may have to look for a clean injection site, Randle said. Don't inject through feces.
Randle demonstrated tricks for keeping the cow calm, while giving the vaccination. Put your hand on the injection site. Squeeze up a pinch of hide. Then, inject under that pinched up area. “She'll move or jump when you grab her, but she won't move when you inject the needle,” Randle said. “Let her react to your hand, not the needle.”
Keeping needles sharp also reduces problems. “If you're pressing hard, and then feel it pop in, your needle is too dull.” Randle suggested changing needles after every 18 to 20 animals.
With a pistol-grip syringe, that's with every refill.
Choosing the right size needle helps get the needle into the hide, without breaking off. “Use a 16 or 18 gauge, nothing smaller,” Randle said. “A 20 gauge breaks too easily. Then, you do have a problem.”
The workshop centered on getting cattle ready for winter feeding. Both the MU Thompson Farm and the Forage Systems Research Center, at Linneus, Mo., hold seasonal workshops for livestock producers.