Processing and vaccinating hints for cattle producers

Developing safe vaccination protocols for your herd can pay off. Here are some basic tips:

  • Store vaccines in the middle area of the fridge. Follow the label instructions and maintain the chain of refrigeration. Check fridge to ensure it stays at the desirable temperature. Keep a thermometer in the fridge. Don’t store vaccines in the door of the fridge.
  • Use a cooler to keep vaccines cool in summer and warm in winter. Use ice packs to keep temperatures within three to seven degrees of recommended temperature. Do not have ice packs directly in contact with vaccines. Keep vaccines in packaging until ready to use.
  • Prevent vaccines from freezing or getting too hot.
  • Warm vaccines a bit before injecting to avoid tissue reactions.
  • Check in advance that chutes and alleyways are working properly, with no protruding or sharp bits, and that sliders are working properly.
  • Have emergency kits available, stocked and labeled. They should include epinephrine, dexamethasone, antihistamine, blood stopper, wound spray and other first-aid essentials.
  • Mix only enough modified vaccine to last one to two hours.
  • Have a sharps container to dispose of needles, razors and other sharp objects. Check expiry and withdrawal dates of products before use. Water-based vaccines normally have 21 days withdrawals. Oil-based vaccines usually have 60 days withdrawal periods required before slaughter.
  • Swirl vaccines when rehydrating. Don’t vigorously shake them.
  • Agitate killed vaccines to have a uniform mixtures.
  • Select appropriate needle size, depending on the size and maturity of cattle, and viscosity of product. Use short needles to get under the skin for subcutaneous administration.
  • Keep syringes well maintained and cleaned. store in fridge or freezer after vaccinating for the day. One drop of cooking canola oil placed on the rubber O ring maintains a smooth sliding motion.
  • Change needles every 10 to 20 head or when bent, burred, dirty or dull.
  • Use subcutaneous injections wherever possible. The neck is the preferred site, behind the elbow is the second choice, or for show cattle.
  • Check dosages of vaccines. Some syringes are self-calibrated and this could lead to errors if not careful. For example, it would be a mistake to administer Draxxin with a Zuprevo gun and vice-versa.
  • Properly restrain cattle.
  • Minimize shots, often two will cover all the antigens.
  • Allow at least a hand-width of separate between vaccines injection sites.
  • Avoid over handling. When animals are in the chute, do as much as humanly and humanely possible to avoid putting them the chute again.
  • Weigh animals, assess and give each a body conditioning score. As well, collect needed samples for fecal tests, hair for DNA testing. NSAIDs may be used for pain relief if appropriate. Do whatever is possible in each pass through the chute.
  • Don’t mix syringes up. Use coloured tape or write on the syringes to properly identify them.
  • Make sure that needles are still on gun when you withdraw them and if you notice a broken needle, record it. Always use needles with metal hubs.
  • Discard unused doses of vaccines.
  • Administer no more than 10 cc of antibiotics per site.
  • Use vaccines with as low a dose as possible.
  • Administer vaccines subcutaneously to avoid giving vaccines into a muscle and hitting an arteriole, which may cause an allergic reaction.
  • Don’t disinfect vaccination needles between animals. Only disinfect implant needles between uses.
  • Make sure and agitate killed vaccines, especially clostridial ones before using. The same rule applies to products like safeguard suspension dewormer.
  • Keep vaccines from freezing using water bottles for syringes, heating pads or in-car heaters.
  • Use the one-handed subcutaneous technique where ever possible to avoid hand or arm injuries.
  • Use paddles, flags or rattles for sorting. No whips, canes or rods.
  • Try to avoid vaccinating in the rain, which creates greater potential for abscesses, or with branding.
  • Double and triple check dosages.
  • Use vaccines that have the lowest dosages.
  • Use a disinfectant tray when implanting and swipe the implant gun.
  • When withdrawing implant needles, insert the needle to the hub and pinch off the hole created.
  • Don’t implant into dirt or manure and avoid areas close to ear tags.
  • The most common issues with implants are missing implants, implanting into cartilage and abscesses from dirty techniques.
  • Maintain implant guns and change needles when dull.
  • Set the implant gun and needle for the left- or right-handed person.
  • With all products, read and follow label directions. Recheck labels, especially if you change trade names of products. Double check dosages, routes of administration and any warning signs or precautions or contraindications.
  • The labels are in fine print but deserve a review from time to time.
  • Take time to properly train new vaccinators and processors on your ranch farm or feedlot. It is the most critical job, as far as disease prevention is concerned.

Roy Lewis works as a technical services veterinarian part time with Merck Animal Health in Alberta.

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