On occasion, all of us are faced with circumstances we’d prefer not to deal with and some animal health care issues are no different. There are usually numbers of ways of doing things and after weighing our options we frequently tend to gravitate toward convenience over efficacy if results are deemed to be passably comparable.
Injecting cattle on range can present significant logistical problems particularly if stock is some distance from home. If there are no conveniently placed handling facilities, stock cannot be readily gathered and moved or (in the case of foot rot) will not respond to being driven without manifest cruelty, other approaches need to be contemplated.
Aside from the inhumaneness of it, an animal with debilitating foot rot or severe respiratory distress cannot long be left untreated without suffering irreversible damage. A combination of convenience and necessity on our farm on occasion led us inevitably to the only tool appropriate to the circumstances, an extended-reach, spring-fired, penicillin injector.
There are variations of these tools on the market, some clearly better than others. The “bow and arrow” style should probably have been left in the age of the caveman as the ones I’ve seen used had little to recommend them unless the goal was to make the target animal even more riled up than it already was while wasting significant amounts of medication and blunting needles as arrows repeatedly hit the ground instead of the cow.
Much as we disliked using ours and did so only under considerable provocation, we found the Westergun to be as effective as anything we had seen. The fact it is a rather simple design enhances its appeal. Essentially it is a syringe holder backed by a bar propelled forward by a spring, which fires upon activating a trigger mechanism on contact.
As is common to most equipment, it should be kept scrupulously clean. There are few moving parts but those that do must be free of obstruction.
Secondly, syringes and needles need to be of the correct size. There are varying lengths of syringes depending on the manufacturer so a sample measurement should be taken before buying a carton. The machine will only take 10 ccs and it must be a style where the plunger end lip has been removed on two (offsetting) sides or it won’t slip into the holder. In a pinch it is possible to snap these side protrusions off and results are close enough.
Needles should be not less than 1- inches in length, not smaller than size 14. Needle size is crucial since the entire 10 ccs will be dispensed in the fraction of a second. If the needle is undersized the syringe may literally explode and all is lost. I would caution buyers not to try to save a few pennies buying cheap thin walled syringes — the risk/reward ratio is entirely disproportionate.
Somewhat like the rancher who allegedly told his neighbour — “my dog is smarter than your dog and your dog is smarter than you,” cows have varying degrees of intelligence. Their grasp of possibilities should not be underestimated in these circumstances. By your strained body language they know something is up and the only question is what.
Possibly the least productive route is to assume a tense predator stance and try to edge closer, Westergun at the ready. This unit is approximately 55 inches in length but you need to retain a firm grip on the handle so the effective distance from you to cow can’t be more than a few feet even with an extended single arm in a thrust mode.
We preferred to sneak a 25-lb. pail of grain out to the vicinity of the target animal and casually pour perhaps a quarter on the ground. When other animals began to rush over we’d saunter over to the intended victim and pour the rest as close to it as we could without arousing overt suspicion. Virtually without fail she would get caught up in the excitement of the moment and as other animals jostled for space she would plunge into the group blinded for rear and side vision and solidly hemmed in from two sides.Ca-ching.
The best injection location is the rear leg muscle about mid-tail level, but some caution is warranted. The precise centre should be avoided. There is a sciatic nerve running down the back of each leg, and while the odds of hitting this are remote, even an off-chance of doing so should be avoided.
It is imperative that everything be set up smoothly ahead of time. Expectations of getting a decent second chance are unlikely. A size-14 needle with an inch of muscle penetration is rather intrusive, and taking into account the earlier rancher’s observation, you might prefer not to be graded as lower than your dog in intelligence, even by a cow.
Stan Harder is a mostly retired Angus breeder living at St. Brides, Alta. You can email him at: [email protected]