March 07, 2021

From gate to plate: Proper vaccine administration can help boost consumer confidence in beef

DULUTH, Ga. — With ever-increasing competition for the consumer’s protein dollar, beef producers look for ways to inspire consumer confidence in beef products. Although it may not be top of mind, management strategies like proper vaccine administration can come into play.

“The end goal of cattle production is for consumers to have a pleasant eating experience when they choose beef as their protein,” said John Currin, Virginia Tech Extension veterinarian and Beef Quality Assurance coordinator. “Improper administration of animal health products not only devalues the animal, but it can cause consumers to have an undesirable eating experience down the line.”

To not only prevent meat quality defects, but also ensure animal well-being and increase the market value of cattle, Currin and Jody Wade, Boehringer Ingelheim senior veterinary consultant, provide insight on best practices for vaccine administration.

1. Store, mix and handle vaccines according to label directions.

“Vaccinating cattle prevents disease, and therefore cuts down on the total number of injections that each animal will receive in its lifetime,” Currin said. “Improper storage and handling of vaccines will result in less efficacious products. Animals will be more likely to be infected by disease-causing pathogens and require additional injections for disease treatment.”

Store vaccines somewhere dark and at a temperature of 35 to 45 degrees. Reading and following label directions is the easiest way to be sure you’re storing, mixing and handling each vaccine correctly.

2. Choose an appropriately-sized needle.

Product efficacy and tissue reactions may be drastically affected by the product entering the wrong tissue plane due to incorrect needle gauge and length.

“The needle needs to be long enough to push the vaccine through the skin without a struggle, but short enough so we don’t reach muscle tissue underneath the skin when giving a subcutaneous injection,” Wade said.

Needles should be new, the appropriate length and no larger than 16 gauge. Note: Using larger or dull needles can traumatize tissue and produce injection site lesions.

3. Administer products subcutaneously.

Intra-muscular products are most likely to cause tissue damage. In fact, a Colorado University research study showed that more than 90% of intramuscular marks at branding were also found at processing.

“To prevent any damage to the retail product for consumers, best practice is to administer vaccines subcutaneously whenever possible,” Currin said.

All injections should also occur in front of the shoulder and be at least four inches apart. Tenting the skin for subcutaneous injections allows for proper product administration.

4. Choose a BQA-certified vaccine.

Wade encourages producers to choose a vaccine that combines effective disease protection and tissue friendliness. By selecting a vaccine that meets BQA standards for low dosage and subcutaneous injection, the risk of long-term tissue damage is minimized.

5. Evaluate animals prior to vaccine administration.

It’s also important to evaluate the cattle before deciding to administer vaccines.

“When producers are processing cattle that have just been rained on, we will typically see more tissue damage due to the wet hides,” Wade said. “When a needle is inserted into a wet hide, it may carry bacteria from the surface of the skin into the injection site.”

6. Be aware of and adhere to product withdrawal times.

Animal health products typically have withdrawal time guidelines that need to be followed to ensure the end product is safe to eat. Therefore, keeping accurate records of product administration and following the label for withdrawal periods is crucial.

Finally, your local veterinarian and state BQA coordinator can provide additional guidance on how to best administer animal health products to ensure a safe end product for consumers to enjoy.