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Needle management contributes to beef quality

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How many times do you reuse needles when doctoring calves? For stocker calves, Beef Quality Assurance guidelines recommend that needles be changed at least every 10 animals. I'm sure most of us have used needles beyond that recommendation. Have you then noticed how sharp a new needle is? How easy it is to use? Figure 1 shows a microscopic view of a new needle.

Figure 1.Figure 1.

Once a needle is used, it loses its cutting edge, similar to a knife after repeated use. Even though you may not be able to see the dull edge clearly, the dull/burred needle causes several problems. Skin tissue damage creates excess inflammation and stops the wound from sealing quickly. This can allow bacteria in and let the drug seep out. Additional effort is required to administer the shot, resulting in fatigue, frustration, and the potential for misplaced injections and broken needles. It's not worth it.

Figure 2 shows a needle that was bumped against the steel squeeze chute and damaged. Any time a needle is dropped, scraped, bent, etc., it should be considered damaged beyond use. Change it immediately.

Figure 2.Figure 2.

Needles are cheap, and, more importantly, they are the physical link that delivers important and sometimes extremely expensive drugs to your valuable cattle. Make sure you are always using fresh needles.

Needles should be changed often to:

  • Reduce the potential for disease transmission among animals.
  • Reduce the potential for broken needles.
  • Reduce skin tissue damage due to dull or burred needles.
  • Eliminate contamination of a drug bottle.

Needle management tips

  • Use a new needle each day, each breeding animal and each 10 non-breeding animals.
  • Use a new needle each time you insert a needle into a drug bottle.
  • Use a new needle each time it is bent, dropped or scraped on something, or feels dull.
  • If a needle breaks off in an animal, immediately remove the entire needle or call your vet. Don't ignore it.
  • Dispose of used needles in an official sharps container and dispose of properly.
  • Select appropriate needle diameter and length for the product and route of administration.
    • Typically, use 16 gauge for antibiotics and 18 gauge for vaccines.
    • ½ inch to ¾ inch is a good needle length for subcutaneous injections.

Properly managing needle use is a key component of ensuring that the beef we produce is safe and wholesome. It is the responsibility of all beef producers to consistently meet these consumer expectations.

Robert Wells, Ph.D., PAS joined the Noble Research Institute as a livestock consultant in 2005. He also serves as the Executive Director for the Integrity Beef Alliance, LLC. His areas of emphasis are forage-based beef cattle production and cow/calf nutrition, herd health programs, improving herd genetics, beef quality assurance, and value-added calf marketing programs. Wells grew up on a South Texas diversified farm and attained his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. You can follow him on LinkedIn.