DocTalk: Use BQA Guidelines for Injection Sites and Proper Equipment

Receiving new cattle means processing those cattle and usually treating a percentage for illness. That means we must be conscious of injection sites and our Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines.

The first consideration is choosing the proper equipment. Depending on the type of injection, we need to use different length needles and, depending on the viscosity or the size of the animal we are injecting, different needle gauge sizes.

As we move down the number in gauges, the bore of the needle gets bigger. Most of the needles we will use in beef cattle are going to be 16 and 18 gauge needles. Those come in the silver and green caps. Though, there are occasions when we use 14 gauge needles to give intravenous injections to cattle, for the most part, for subcutaneous and intramuscular injections, we’re going to use 16 and 18 gauge.

The length of the needle changes depending on the type of injection. For a subcutaneous injection, which is between the skin and in front of the muscle, you need to use a shorter needle. I like to pick out a 5/8" to 1/2" needle, 16 or 18 gauge.

For an intramuscular injection, which we want to bury in the muscle, we want to use the 18 gauge needle that is 1" to an 1.5" in length. Most products today are subcutaneous, but if we do go intramuscular, we want to make sure we use that type of needle.

For vaccines and proper storage, you must remember the bottle of vaccine is sensitive to the ambient temperature. Vaccine bottles should be stored in a cooler during processing to keep it cool and out of the sunlight because ultraviolet light can kill the modified live vaccine.

The next focus should be on location. Thanks to BQA we have moved most injection sites away from edible product to a place where we don’t have carcass value loss. Injections should be positioned in the neck region of the animal. There’s a triangle on the neck, bordered on the top by the nuchal ligament, the point of the shoulder and the vertebral column down the middle of the neck.

We must remember we can only give 10 cc of a product in one injection site. When we move from one injection site to another within that triangle, we should be a hand’s width, or three to four inches, apart.

If you are using dart guns, BQA principles still apply, you still use that injection site triangle in the neck. 

The dart gun is simply a remote syringe, so the same label and same product descriptions need to be used. You must also be sure to identify the animals treated with a dart gun and keep proper records. If you have any doubts about whether a needle or foreign body remains in an animal, contact your local veterinarian.


Dan Thomson, DVM, Ph.D., is a professor of production medicine and epidemiology at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. You can email him at [email protected].