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BUL 923

BQA — Cattle Processing and Injection Site Management

Leslie Nunn, Shannon Williams

Beef Quality Assurance
Key Points

Optimize processing by

  • Handling cattle calmly and quietly, keeping them in a normal state of mind.
  • Using proper restraint prior to giving an injection.
  • Changing needles often, at least every 10–15 head.
  • Using the correct needle size based on route of administration, size of animal, and thickness of material being injected.
  • Giving injections at appropriate site locations, with at least four-inch spacing between injection sites.
  • Always protecting vaccine from freezing, overheating, and sunlight.
  • Keeping detailed records to guarantee product safety and quality.


Successful beef producers understand that beef quality assurance requires an effective herd health program. A successful herd health program includes the routine administration of vaccines and, as needed, injectable antibiotics. This production event, often referred to as processing, requires greater consideration than a menial task to be checked off in a “to-do” list. Such considerations as proper cattle handling, product storage, needle size, needle changes, appropriate injection sites, and thorough record keeping need to be top priorities for all personnel, before and during a cattle-processing event. Failure to pay adequate attention to these considerations may negatively affect herd health and impair beef quality.


It is widely accepted that ensuring beef quality involves keeping cattle healthy throughout their lives. Since cattle are susceptible to illness and disease, preventing and treating disease are vital to increase producer income and make sure that public perceptions of animal welfare are positive. Therefore, processing cattle to administer vaccines and antibiotics should be a part of a holistic animal health program that boosts cattle immunity and protects a herd against the various diseases to which it is susceptible.

Cattle Handling

Vaccination and treatment procedures are most helpful when correct animal-handling techniques are followed. Most importantly, cattle should be handled in a way that allows them to remain in a normal state of mind (i.e., not overly excited or agitated). Handlers should strive to bring them into the corral and chute in a quiet and calm manner. This will help in the application of proper restraint to the animal prior to administering an injection. When cattle are suitably restrained, injections can be given with greater precision and accuracy, keeping injection site blemishes to a minimum.

Needle Changes

Minimizing injection site blemishes is one more way that producers can ensure a quality beef product. Changing needles every 10–15 head helps to prevent abscesses at the injection site. Bent needles should be replaced immediately to avoid breaking them off inside the animal. In the rare event a needle does break off in an animal, the assistance of a veterinarian may be required to remove the needle. If the needle cannot be removed, the animal should be tracked until harvested, at which time the meat processing plant can remove and discard the needle. Needles that become damaged or develop a burr on the end should also be replaced. Do not allow needles to become dull before changing. If a known blood-borne infectious disease is present, needles must be changed between each animal.

The appropriate needle size varies with the size of the animal, with the viscosity of the product, and whether it is being given subcutaneously (SQ), intramuscularly (IM), or intravenously (IV). Use Table 1 as a guide to select the appropriate needle size.

Table 1. Needle selection guidelines. (Reprinted with permission from the National BQA Manual)
Route of Administration
Subcutaneous (SQ)
(needle: ½–¾ inch)
Intravenous (IV)
(needle: 1½ inch)
Intramuscular (IM)
(needle: 1–1½ inch)
Cattle Weight (lb) Cattle Weight (lb) Cattle Weight (lb)
Injectable Viscosity <300 300–700 >700 <300 300–700 >700 <300 300–700 >700
Thin (Example: Saline) 18 gauge 18–16 gauge 16 gauge 18–16 gauge 16 gauge 16–14 gauge 20–18 gauge 18–16 gauge 18–16 gauge
Thick (Example: Oxytetracycline) 18–16 gauge 18–16 gauge 16 gauge 16 gauge 16–14 gauge 16–14 gauge 18 gauge 16 gauge 16 gauge
Select the needle to fit the cattle size. Use the smallest practical size without bending.

Storage and Handling of Vaccines and Other Animal Health Products

Vaccines and other animal health products must be stored and cared for appropriately to increase the likelihood of achieving disease protection. Unless otherwise stated on the product label, animal health products should be stored under refrigeration at a temperature of 35°F–45°F. If temperatures fall below or rise above this temperature range, the integrity of the animal health products may be compromised, and they will likely be rendered ineffective. Therefore, refrigerators should be monitored daily to be sure the appropriate temperature is maintained.

When processing in remote locations, it is imperative to have a good plan to handle vaccines during transport and processing. Temperatures in these environments can often be far outside the safe temperature range listed on the product label. Use a good cooler and cold packs to maintain the required temperature. Keep vaccines, especially modified live vaccines (MLV), out of direct sunlight, as ultraviolet light will destroy the needed microorganisms in these vaccines. This is equally important once the product has been drawn up into the syringe.

Modified live vaccines should be mixed using a transfer needle. Do not shake too vigorously when mixing; this too will harm the vaccine. Once the MLV is activated, it should be used in under two hours. Dispose of any unused, activated MLV as well as all animal health products that have expired.

Injection Sites

Administering injections at the correct location is an excellent way to maintain the quality of expensive cuts and to guarantee beef quality. Without exception, all injections should be given in front of the shoulder. When possible, strive to use animal health products that can be administered subcutaneously (SQ). Avoid injecting more than 10 cc per injection site when using a product requiring an intramuscular (IM) injection. This will minimize tissue damage around the injection site. The base of the ear, or where the ear connects to the head, is another excellent location for SQ injections.

All IM injections must be given in an area known as “the injection zone triangle.” This triangle is located in the neck region, highlighted in green in Figure 1. Be sure all injections are spaced at least four inches apart.

When properly applied, growth-stimulating implants have been shown to increase weaning weights. Implants are given in the back of the ear. Be sure to place the implant in the middle third of the ear (Figure 2). It is also important to remember to disinfect the implant needle between each injection to help to prevent infection at the injection site.

Injection zone
Figure 1. Injection zone diagram. (Courtesy of Dan Buskirk, Michigan State University)
Implant location
Figure 2. Relative implant location. (Adapted from the National BQA Manual)

Record Keeping

Records provide the information needed to indicate correct and timely completion of processing procedures. For this reason, record keeping is critical for improving consumer perceptions and confidence in the beef industry. It also strengthens marketing capabilities. Treatment records should include the identification and approximate weight of the animal being treated; the date, name, and serial number of the product used; its dose; the injection location; the route of administration; and the name of the person administering the drug. It should also include the prescribed withdrawal period. All treatment records should be kept for three years.


The Beef Quality Assurance program encourages beef cattle producers to implement cattle-processing procedures that will aid them in successfully producing a high-quality beef product. This can be achieved when strict attention is paid to effective cattle-handling practices, correct needle selection and change intervals, acceptable injection sites, proper storage and care of animal health products, and maintenance of in-depth records.


Beef Quality Assurance. n.d. Beef Quality Assurance National Manual. Accessed January 16, 2018.

About the Authors

Leslie Nunn—University of Idaho Extension (retired), Bear Lake County

Shannon Williams—University of Idaho Extension Educator (Agriculture and Natural Resources), Lemhi County

The Idaho Beef Quality Assurance Program is a partnership between University of Idaho Extension and Idaho Beef Council.

The BQA Mission
To maximize consumer confidence and acceptance of beef by focusing the produer’s attention to daily production practices that influence the safety, wholesomeness and quality of beef and beef products.

BQA Certification
Idaho Beef Quality AssuranceCertification requirements can be achieved by participating in a training session and completing the BQA quiz and personal contract. Certification is valid for three years. Learn more about BQA certification in Idaho, here:

Issued in furtherance of cooperative extension work in agriculture and home economics, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Barbara Petty, Director of University of Idaho Extension, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho 83844. The University of Idaho has a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, age, disability or status as a Vietnam-era veteran.

University of Idaho Extension


Physical Address:
E. J. Iddings Agricultural Science Laboratory, Room 10
606 S Rayburn St

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive MS 2332
Moscow, ID 83844-2332

Phone: 208-885-7982

Fax: 208-885-9046



Barbara Petty