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Minimize tissue damage when injecting livestock

Beef Quality Assurance has become more important than ever to producers and veterinarians to ensure they’re producing a wholesome product with no drug residues, meat blemishes or lesions that result in cut-outs in the carcass.

“The BQA program has been followed closely by companies producing vaccine and other biologics. Most companies are formulating products for subcutaneous administration; there’s less need for intramuscular injections.

There are also some intranasal products,” says George Barrington, Agricultural Animal Clinical Ser-vices, Washington State University. “Today, we also recommend putting all subcutaneous products in the neck, rather than into any regions behind the neck.”

Key Points

BQA programs work well to educate on proper injections.

Read product labels and follow directions.

If possible, give injections in the middle of the neck.


Never put any injections into the hindquarters. Dale Moore, director of WSU’s Veterinary Medicine Extension, says, “We want to avoid any injection site lesions in expensive cuts, like the round.” He is involved with helping organize BQA training for producers, via the WSU Extension.There are also regional BQA Extension programs that are helpful.

“Most producers recognize that these recommendations are in their best interests — to produce the best-quality product and safest for the consumer,” says Barrington.

Traditionally, the rump was the most-used location for intramuscular injections because it was the easiest place to reach when processing cattle through a long chute, and in the old days most injections were given IM.

Research finds better tissue levels of certain products may be attained when these products are administered closer to the head. “There may be better responses to some vaccines and improved tissue levels of some antibiotics when given in the neck, compared to when they are given back toward the hind end,” says Barrington.

It can be difficult to give all injections in the neck, but newer squeeze chutes with neck extenders are helpful. They hold the animal motionless and reduce risk for hand injuries, smashed syringes or broken needles.

Injection tips

Barrington suggests choosing an appropriate needle size and length. “If the needle is too large, it creates more pain, and there’s more chance of the product leaking back out through the larger hole. Needle size is also dependent on consistency of the product being injected. Some are thicker and hard to force through a small-diameter needle.”

For subcutaneous injection, Barrington recommends a short needle, placed at a 45-degree angle so there’s minimal chance of entering muscle. “With a long needle, you must pick up a pinch of skin, to slip it underneath. Make sure the hide is clean and dry. Injecting through a dirty hide would be like a doctor giving you a flu shot through your work coat.

“When vaccinating a group of cattle, it’s best to change needles and use a new one for each animal (blood-borne diseases like anaplasmosis and bovine leucosis virus can be transmitted by using the same needle), but most producers don’t take time to do this.”

When using multi-dose syringes, he recommends changing needles each time you refill the syringe. Change more often if the needle becomes dull or bent. “Inject no more than 10cc of product in one site. If dosage [for an antibiotic] is 15cc, two injections — one on either side of the neck — would be required,” says Moore.

Barrington explains there’s more likelihood of tissue residue if you put more than the recommended volume in one site. The product may also be slower absorbing.

Smith Thomas writes from Salmon, Idaho.

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IM INJECTION: Michael Thomas, who raises cattle in the Lemhi Valley near Salmon, Idaho, gives an intramuscular injection in the neck of a cow.

This article published in the April, 2011 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.