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Effective vaccines begin by preparing and choosing the proper equipment

Written by Saige

Shannon Williams, Lemhi County Extension educator in Salmon, Idaho, notes properly administering injections is essential to minimizing residue and injection site lesions while also reducing the risk for reactions and side effects. 

Preparing cattle

Prior to giving an injection, Williams says it is important to make sure cattle aren’t too dirty. 

“If cattle are dirty or their neck is covered with manure, move to the other side and find a cleaner area,” she comments.  

“However, the animal is so dirty on both sides that even if producers wipe off manure, they would be injecting into a wet, dirty hide. In this situation, producers need to wash the area and dry it as best they can. 

“If that’s not possible, we could inject into a cleaner area under the loose hide over the ribs behind the elbow,” Williams explains. “There has been discussion about injecting behind the elbow, especially on small calves where we don’t want to make their neck sore with a bunch of injections. This is not a Beef Quality Assurance injection site at this point, but if I had to make a choice in a bad situation I might use that area.”  

“Another thing a person might do is clean the dirty neck as best we can, go ahead and inject that animal and then change needles,” says Williams.

Proper needle

Williams also notes it is important to select the proper length needle when giving intramuscular injections versus subcutaneous injections.  

“Needle length can also vary depending on the technique,” she explains. “When tenting the skin to slip the needle underneath, we may want a longer needle than what we’d use on a syringe gun that’s just aimed at an angle into the hide.” 

A larger diameter needle is necessary for thick fluids that won’t readily go through a smaller needle, and mature cattle with thick hides require a larger-diameter needle. No smaller than a 16-gauge needle should be used for mature livestock, which means producers will be less apt to bend or break the needle. 

A smaller needle, such as an 18 gauge, can be used for calves with thinner skin. 

Restraining cattle 

“Make sure cattle are adequately restrained or secured before we give injections,” Williams emphasizes. “A good chute helps, if it’s easy to walk down a catwalk to reach the animals and not have to catch each one,” she explains, “but we take a bigger chance of missed dosing, bending a needle, creating more tissue damage if the animal moves while we are injecting, putting an injection into the wrong location or getting our hand caught between cattle.”  

“It’s usually best to restrain each animal and do it carefully and accurately,” says Williams.  

At the end of the day, Williams says it pays to take whatever time is necessary to do it right. Otherwise, ranchers may end up with abscesses or lesions in the final product, needles broken off in the animal or an occasional condemned carcass.

“Often, we are giving more than one injection. Make sure we put the same vaccine in the same syringe.  Mark the syringes or put color-coded tape on them, so we never make a mistake,” she says.

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..