vaccinate; animal health; cattle; livestock

Cattle production: Vaccinate your cattle – it saves lives and stops the spread of disease

The health of your animals through vaccination, together with good feeding and breeding principles, are the cornerstones of a commercial cattle operation. If you want to farm cattle, you will need to vaccinate correctly. This is how you do it.

The primary tool for an effective vaccination programme is the cattle crush. Without this vital piece of infrastructure, you cannot treat or examine an animal. You cannot help a cow in difficulty, look at an infected foot, an eye with opthalmia, or any sort of injury, and you certainly cannot vaccinate. If you don’t have a crush, build one. If your cash is limited, make the poles from local timber.

I like to think about a vaccine as a fairly tough personal trainer. It trains the animal’s system to beat off germ (pathogen) attacks. Vaccines elicit an antibody response to specific diseases that strengthen the immune system and give it the ability to warn off diseases. There can be no doubt that vaccinating your herd gives you peace of mind.

One usually vaccinates under the skin (subcutaneously), but there are a few vaccines that must be injected into the muscle (intramuscularly). Once you have bought the vaccine, follow the instructions on the leaflet that comes with the vaccine, and keep the cold chain intact.

‘Check the dose – check the dose – check the dose’

The instructions will give you the correct dose and the vaccine administration method. No matter how many times I vaccinated, season after season, I always checked the package instructions. Get paranoid about this – it takes one mistake to kill an animal.

Check the dose – check the dose – check the dose. Some vaccines may not be administered to pregnant animals so check that too.


When you are vaccinating, don’t disinfect the skin because disinfectants can have a negative effect on live vaccines. For the same reason don’t use disinfectant to clean syringes or needles.

There are two types of vaccine – we refer to them as ‘live’ and ‘killed’. The ‘live’ vaccine contains a virus or bacteria that has been modified so that it has lost its disease-causing ability but is still live. The killed vaccine contains dead or ‘killed’ viral or bacterial material.

Dry, clean skin is the safest vaccination environment, so don’t vaccinate after dipping, or if the hide is wet. You can re-use plastic syringes, even if they are disposable, just clean them in hot water. If you boil them they will melt and end up in a nasty plastic clump, stuck to the bottom of your saucepan.

vaccination; livestock; cattle
The stockman is using a repeater syringe to vaccinate the heifers in this crush. The repeater is calibrated to draw out the right amount and the needle is changed every 10th cow.

You must boil the needles for 10 minutes to sterilise them. Often, when vaccinating, stockmen use a repeater syringe and change the needle every 10th animal or more.

You must boil the needles for 10 minutes to sterilise them.

With all the diseases around, especially in the African environment, I, personally, wouldn’t use the repeater to vaccinate. I would rather use a clean needle for every animal. Especially with small herds, it’s really no big deal to change the needle. And there are some vaccines that must have a change of needle between every animal. This simple precaution reduces the risk of transmitting pathogens from one animal to another.

Vaccinate in the neck inside a rough, inverted triangle with the base line running along below the top of the neck, and the apex pointing downward and ending somewhere in front of the shoulder. You can inject here either into the muscle or under the skin without fear of hitting a major blood vessel, nerve or bone.

vaccination; livestock; cattle
This is a subcutaneous vaccination. Notice how the stockman has lifted the skin on the neck to administer the vaccine just under the skin.


This is often a problem in rural areas there is no power and no refrigeration, unless one has a gas fridge. Nevertheless, keeping the vaccine cool is a basic rule that must be obeyed. Exposing the vaccine to temperatures above certain maxima destroys its efficiency. What’s the point of vaccinating with something that will not work? It wastes your money and your time and does nothing for the animal.

Ice packed into a decent cooler box will usually maintain a suitably cool temperature for long enough. Even if you fetched the vaccine from your nearest depot the afternoon before you mustered your cattle, with enough ice, and an early start it should be okay. An alternative way to keep vaccines cool is to look at using dry ice.


Keep a register of your animals and tag them, even if you have only 10 cows. Make a vaccination list for field work. As you vaccinate get your assistant to tick the vaccinated animal off against the list, and record the date so that you know when you vaccinated against which particular disease. If you have no assistant, do it yourself. It will take you a bit longer, but it’s worth the effort.

Have enough needles and syringes ready in a clean container and keep a disposal container for waste. Leaving sharp needles lying on the ground is not intelligent and it is dangerous.

You can leave a needle in the rubber top of the vaccine bottle, draw up the correct dose, take the syringe off the inserted needle and put on a clean needle. Then vaccinate.

Good luck and get with the programme. It saves lives and improves your bottom line.

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