How to inject sheep and cattle without causing carcass damage

Bruising, abscesses and trauma are three of the most common reasons sheep and beef cattle will be rejected at the point of slaughter.

Figures from English kill last year found that out of 9.3 million sheep, 191,119 carcasses had localised abscesses and 23,916 had trauma/bruising.

And out of 1.5 million cattle killed, 11,403 had carcass rejections due to abscesses and 23,945 due to trauma.

Paul Rowley, sales and marketing director at Sterimatic Worldwide, says infection introduced at the point of an injection site can be one of the main ways secondary infections can be introduced, leading to abscesses and ultimate loss of carcass quality.

See also: Butcher’s tips on what makes a good beef carcass

Fridge-(2)“With increasingly tight margins in the beef and sheep sector, it’s vital to minimise losses of saleable meat by preventing abscesses and trauma, particularly at the point of injecting,” he says.

Farmers Weekly and Sterimatic Worldwide has put together a best-practice step-by-step guide to injecting livestock.

Step 1

Manufacturers’ guidelines

Read the details supplied with the injectable to confirm the dose size and whether you are performing a subcutaneous, intra-muscular or intradermal injection.

Ensure you have enough doses for the number of animals to be treated.

Step 2

Vaccine storage


Keep the vaccine at the correct temperature according to the manufacturers’ guidelines.

Step 3

Selecting the right equipmentSimcro-syringe-and-sterimatic

Ensure you have all the equipment you need prior to injecting.

This includes: vaccine, cool bag, injection equipment (injector, needles, needle guard/stericaps), sharps box, medicine book, animal handling equipment, staff and other checks/treatment plan.

When picking the syringes there are two main types to consider. They are:

  • Single-dose disposable syringes are designed for treating small numbers of livestock. They are supplied sterile and intended to be used once and then disposed of.
  • Multi-dose syringes. These are connected to the bottle and the syringe automatically refills making them excellent devices for mass treatments. They come in two styles: bottle-mounted and tube-fed syringes.
  • Bottle-mounted is where the bottle is attached directly to the syringe. These are perfect for 50ml, 100ml or 250ml bottles. Tube-fed syringes have the bottle connected via a tube to the syringe. These are ideal for larger bottles or if you are working in a confined space.NJP-Syringe-1

With both types always ensure the bottle is held vertically when the handle is released otherwise air bubbles may get into the syringe or tubing.

Step 4

Selecting the needle

Needles are available in two types:

  • Plastic hub – designed for single-use
  • Metal hub – designed for multi-dose as needles have a stronger wall thickness and shorter and stronger point which is designed for multi-use

Needle reuse can lead to infections. It is important to use either a new sterile needle for every injection or consider using an automatic needle sterilisation system.

Step 5

Injecting the right location


  • Subcutaneous (under the skin) – grab a fold of skin in the neck area about 50mm behind and below the ear or behind the shoulder and inject into the “tent” of skin.
  • Intramuscular – insert the needle at 90deg into the neck about 50mm behind and below the ear or into the rump. Take care to avoid veins or the spinal column.

During vaccination regularly check to ensure the dose has not changed on the injector. This can occur by accidentally knocking the dose wheel and can cause ineffective under dosing or costly overdosing.

Step 6

Maintenance and storage


Always ensure equipment is either new or clean and if sterile packaging is damaged do not use it. Dirty equipment may cause infections in your livestock.

If you are planning to reuse equipment, ensure it is cleaned immediately after use before the product dries out inside the barrel. Syringes should be cleaned according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

This includes flushing through either with warm soapy water or with a cold-water sterilant as used for baby bottles. Then flush through with cooled, boiled water.

After cleaning relubricate the O-ring with a few drops of vegetable oil but not mineral oil as this may affect the rubber.

It is important to store out of direct sunlight in a sealable bag to keep out contamination. Equipment should then be re-cleaned just before the next usage.

When disposing of items always ensure compliance with local regulations – for example, using approved sharps boxes for needles.

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