Best practices for vaccinating cattle, handling vaccines and caring for animal health equipment

Jesse Fulton, Extension Educator, Director of Nebraska Beef Quality Assurance

October 13, 2023

Lots 551-555_WD Cattle copy

Fall weaning and transportation can be a high-stress period for calves that may be transitioning from one operation to another. As animal care providers, it’s our job to take that into consideration and do all we can to reduce the stress load on these animals.

      First, let’s think of the period in which cattle are being transported as if they were running a marathon. A past BQA survey indicated that feeder calves traveling to Texas or Nebraska feed yards traveled up to 468 miles. When those animals step off the truck, they are likely exhausted, nutritionally depleted and susceptible to illness.

      If we immediately run them through a chute, the stress of weaning or of transportation may influence how the animal’s immune system reacts to an immune challenge brought on by a vaccine.

      To make sure animals get the most benefit from any health therapies at receiving, producers can utilize basic Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Best Management Practices (BMPs).

Receiving and vaccinating cattle

  • As animals walk off the truck, evaluate and document the animals’ condition and anything that needs immediate attention.
  • Allow freshly received animals to rest for 24-72 hours before processing. They should have access to long-stem hay and unlimited fresh, clean water. This rest period allows time for the animals to settle and adjust to their new environment, whether that’s a dedicated “receiving” pen or the animals’ home pen.
  • Vaccinate after animals have rested and had a chance to eat and drink, dropping their stress level and giving their immune system a chance to recover and prepare for responding to the vaccine.
  • Vaccines should be given in front of the shoulder unless otherwise directed by the label.
  • All animal health treatments should be recorded and documented.
  • No animal should be marketed until all animal health product withdrawal periods have passed.

Vaccine care

  • Read the label and follow directions for uses, storage guidelines, administration, dosage and other instructions.
  • Do not expose vaccines to conditions outside the labeled temperature ranges, including freezing, or to sunlight.
  • Light-sensitive animal health products should be transported and stored chute-side in a cooler with ice packs, if necessary. Use a towel or cardboard divider to keep the products from coming into contact with the ice packs, which can cause slushing/freezing.
  • Some animal health products can be frozen and thawed safely, but others release endotoxins if they are frozen and thawed, which can be harmful and cause serious complications, including death.
  • Anytime the vaccine gun is not being used, it should be stored in the cooler, or at least out of the sunlight.
  • If the vaccine or animal health product needs to be mixed, mix only what can be used in an hour or less. Some products are viable for a limited time once mixed, so mixing it as you use it helps ensure its effectiveness and that you don’t waste product when unforeseen delays happen.
  • Use caution when shaking/mixing animal health products, even when instructed to “mix well” by the label. Shaking vigorously can damage the product, releasing endotoxins. The best way to mix it is to roll it between your hands, swishing it around in the vial, both clockwise and counterclockwise, and turning it upside-down several times.


  • Label your syringes and have separate syringes assigned for specific products. Inadvertently mixing animal health products or subjecting products to cross-contamination from syringes can have adverse implications.
  • Never mix animal health products in the same syringe to reduce the number of injections. This is prohibited by federal law for producers.
  • Sanitize syringes and reusable equipment using heat—boiling water or steam. Do not use detergents (soaps) or disinfectants (alcohols) to clean syringes. These products may leave a residue that can damage or destroy animal health products on the next use.


  • Always use a new, sterile needle when drawing up animal health products, to avoid contaminating the product left in the bottle, which may make it useless.
  • Change needles every 10-15 head and/or every time you refill the syringe, or if the needles are contaminated, dull, develop a bur, or bend. Needles are cheap, compared to the cost of vaccines and animal health.

      Many of the best management practices mentioned in this article are from the Nebraska BQA and National BQA program guidelines. If you have any questions or to find out more, please visit

Southern Livestock

More News

Crop and Weather

Acreage and stocks estimates push corn prices lower

The report suggests larger-than-expected corn acres. The annual acreage report released late June by USDA-NASS included larger-than-expected corn acres ...

Texas Side Of Things

July 2024 is officially here and, in my opinion, it’s already been better than last year just because the dailytemperature isn’t hitting 105 degrees. Vicki and I just returned from the Rio Grande Valley area and it looks spectacular.From Corpus Christi all the way to Raymondville, the countryside looked like the Garden of Eden from ...

Producers need to understand marketing and planning needs for direct beef sales

FORSYTH, Mo. – Selling beef directly from the farm to consumers gained significant popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. ...

USDA Beef Quality Grades: What do they mean?

A large portion of beef sold at retail in the United States is accompanied by a USDA quality ...
Herd Health

Record keeping for a healthy herd

Individual identification is critical for the success of a record keeping system. Keeping written farm records is like ...
Herd Health

Track your livestock’s trace mineral levels

Trace minerals play an important role in livestock health. They aid in bodily functions, production of offspring and ...