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Midwest/North: Chuteside vaccination tips for calves

Erika Lundy for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 June 2020

A vaccination program is only as good as the techniques implemented when handling and administering the products. Here are some tips to ensure you’re getting the most out of your calfhood vaccination program.

Maintaining equipment

Syringes should be properly cleaned using boiling water prior to use and should periodically be taken apart for further cleaning. Avoid using disinfectants because remaining residue will challenge the effectiveness of product. Likewise, strive to maintain separate syringes used specifically for modified-live vaccines, killed vaccines or antibiotics, not a combination, to avoid contamination and reduced effectiveness.

Although time-consuming and burdensome to dispose of, needles should be changed each time the syringe is reloaded to prevent contamination of remaining product in the bottle as well as every 10 to 15 head. Not only does this maintain sharp needles, but it’s also a low-cost insurance policy to protect the herd from spreading underlying disease or illness. Frequently change implant gun needles and disinfect between each calf as well. Always avoid using bent needles on a syringe or implant gun.

Handling vaccines

While often cheaper to buy in larger doses, keep in mind that modified-live vaccines need to be used within 30 minutes of mixing to maintain efficacy. Avoid exposure to sunlight, and keep vaccines and filled syringes cool, as these cause damage to active ingredients. Syringes should also be cooled and kept out of sunlight prior to filling to avoid compromising the product.

Injection sites

Thoroughly read product labels to determine the appropriate route of administration (subcutaneous, intramuscular, etc.) to reduce tissue damage and injection site swelling. Processing cattle with wet hair coats also increases risk of injection site abscesses. Remember, if giving multiple products, ensure adequate space (recommended 4 inches) between injection sites to avoid product reactions. For calves, this likely means administering injections on both sides of the neck.


Routine processing and treatment records should be kept for at least two years. Critical information to record with each group includes the date administered, product used, dosage, route of administration, withdrawal period, who administered and if and when a booster shot is needed. It is also advisable to record lot numbers of each product to be referenced if issues arise.

Other considerations

Many outside factors also impact the immune response to vaccinations, including current health and nutritional status as well as stress of the animal. Perhaps most important, strive to minimize animal stress the day of processing. Utilize low-stress cattle handling methods, avoid overcrowding in the alleyway or chute, and avoid processing during peak temperatures of the day.  end mark

Erika Lundy
  • Erika Lundy

  • Extension Beef Program Specialist
  • Iowa Beef Center - Iowa State University
  • Email Erika Lundy