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Proper Injection Sites and Other Things to Remember When Vaccinating Calves

By Jenifer Heyden, PAg, Regional Livestock Specialist, North Battleford

May 2017

The months of May and June mean cattle are being rounded up and moved out to pasture. Friends and neighbours gather near and far to process and brand calves. Processing protocols range from castrating the bull calves, administering implants, if we are utilizing them, and immunizing all of the calves to protect them against diseases such as blackleg.  In some situations, calves may also be vaccinated for respiratory diseases like Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) and Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD).  Working with your local veterinarian to ensure your vaccination protocol is current, and meeting your local scenario, is key to implementing a strong herd health program. There are also a number of recommended practices to follow to ensure the day is effective and calves walk away protected.

Here are some things to keep in mind during processing:

  • Keep vaccines out of the direct sun and in a cooler in order to ensure/maintain their efficacy – damaged vaccines won’t work the way they’re supposed to.
  • If you are using modified live vaccines, mix only what is needed for the next hour.
  • Select the proper needle size for young calves, generally a ½ - ¾ inch, 16 or 18 gauge needle is preferred.
  • Remember to change the needle every 10-15 calves, each time the syringe is reloaded, or if a syringe is bent during injection.
  • Avoid using soap or other disinfectants to wash/clean syringes; traces of these substances left on the syringe can damage vaccines, thus reducing their effectiveness.  
  •  Keep a record of which injections/implants/other procedures were given to which calves, and keep a copy of vaccine/implant lot numbers with those records.

Injections are not as simple as just inserting the needle and pushing the plunger, or pulling the trigger. Vaccines should be administered according to their label in order to avoid over or under-dosing. Some vaccines are given subcutaneous (SQ), under the skin, while others are administered intramuscular (IM), in the muscle. Some vaccines allow you to choose the administration route, SQ or IM, with SQ being most often preferred. Vaccines must be administered properly to ensure that we minimize residues, avoid injection site lesions, and lower the risk of negative reactions and side effects. Over-dosing can have implications associated with slaughter withdrawal times and the creation of injection site lesions. When giving multiple injections to a single calf, don’t put them close together; space them several inches apart or on different sides of the neck to avoid lesions and other negative side effects. Injecting in the neck stops damage to expensive steak cuts in the hind quarter. Correct administration of any injection to avoid site lesions is not only a critical control point in beef production and animal health, but also for retail sales and consumer satisfaction. Research shows that there is a negative relationship between meat tenderness and injection sites – tenderness is reduced in a three-inch area surrounding the injection site, and at some point in time we’ve all bit into that tough gristly piece of steak.

Following these recommended practices will help ensure that your branding/processing day is effective, calves walk away protected, and in the months to follow, both ourselves and consumers near and far will have an enjoyable and delicious beef eating experience! For more information on this or other livestock related topics, contact Jenifer Heyden at (306) 446-7962 in North Battleford or call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.

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