How to inject your livestock properly

Animal health is a cornerstone of successful farming, and at some point all livestock farmers need to inject their animals. Here are some valuable tips.

How to inject your livestock properly

To inject livestock, particularly larger species such as cattle, you need to have a strong, well-built handling facility such as a cattle crush.

This should prevent the animal from turning around or jumping out before or during treatment.

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The sides of the crush should be made of strong steel beams or gum poles and be least 1,6m high.

If the crush is too wide, attach old car tyres along the inside of the barrier to narrow the area where the animal stands. Also, fit strong gates or sliding poles to secure the animal in the confined area when treating it.

It is a good idea to use a neck clamp; this will secure the animal and prevent it from jumping when the injection is administered.

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To inject your animals correctly, follow these guidelines:

  • Read the medicine instructions carefully
    Determine whether the injection must be administered intramuscularly (deeply into a muscle), subcutaneously (just under the skin), or intravenously (into the vein). If the last, it should be undertaken by an expert or a vet.
  • Weigh the animals
    Make sure you know the live weight of each animal requiring treatment, as the dosage of medication will be based on this. A community livestock weighing scale is therefore crucial. Scales that double as a holding crate or crush are available.
  • Use the correct needle
    Be sure that the needle is the right gauge (thickness). For example, a thick, long needle designed for cattle can cause severe tissue damage to a small lamb, which requires a far shorter, thinner needle.
  • Inject from above, and away from the poles
    Administer the injection from above the highest pole of the crush. Pushing your arm under a horizontal pole can lead to serious injury if the animal pins it against the pole.
  • Observe good hygiene and safety measures
    If you are injecting many animals, change needles after every five cattle or 10 to 15 sheep. To minimise the risk of spreading diseases, leave sickly looking animals for last.
    Boil syringes and needles in water for at least 15 minutes before using them again. Disposable needles will often become blunt after being used a few times and should rather be safely discarded at a medical refuse facility. Never discard needles in household refuse or dump them where they can injure people.
  • Avoid the hindquarters
    Inject the animal in the thick muscle of the lower neck area just above the shoulder rather than in the hindquarter. An injection can sometimes cause an abscess to form under the injection site, and this has to be removed after slaughter, leading to weight loss, carcass damage, and a lower meat price. The hind leg muscles are of far higher value as meat, so removing an abscess here will result in a greater financial loss for you.
  • How to inject subcutaneously
    When administering a subcutaneous injection, lift the skin behind the shoulder and insert the needle parallel to the body. Make sure the needle remains under the skin and has not emerged on the other side, or the medicine will be wasted.
  • Use colour coding to keep order
    Mark each animal that has been treated with brightly coloured chalk on the head. (Do not use paint on sheep fleeces, as this will lower the value of the wool.) In this way you won’t accidentally re-inject animals that may have rejoined those awaiting treatment.
  • Keep accurate records
    Document the date of treatment and take careful note of any manufacturer instructions that advise follow-up treatments. If you fail to complete the treatment, the medicine may no longer work. Take careful note of how antibiotics and vaccines should be stored, as variations in temperature can render them ineffective.Store all livestock medications and allied equipment safely away from children. If in doubt about any of the steps described here, consult a vet or experienced livestock farmer for advice.

Shane Brody is involved in project management as part of an outreach programme aimed at transferring skills to communal farmers in parts of the former Ciskei and Transkei.