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Treatment protocols valuable management tool for cow/calf operations

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It is “calf-working time” in parts of the country, which should serve as a reminder for producers to get with their veterinarians to review, revise or — if one does not exist — develop a treatment protocol plan for their specific cattle operations.

Some may consider a treatment protocol plan as being something feedyards and larger stocker operations do; however, it is a valuable management practice for large and small cow/calf producers as well and a key part of the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program, according to animal agriculture professionals with the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.

BQA is a nationally coordinated, state-implemented program that provides systematic information to producers and consumers of U.S. beef about how commonsense husbandry techniques can be coupled with accepted scientific knowledge to raise cattle under optimum management and environmental conditions.

“A treatment protocol plan is easy to do, straightforward and takes guesswork and faulty memories out of the equation,” said Dana Zook, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension area livestock specialist.

Simply put, write out a plan for what treatment or treatments are to used when cattle get sick for various reasons, making sure to also include follow-up dates and practices as well as possible alternative treatments if the initial treatment does not produce the desired result. The plan should be reviewed annually.

“As you update the protocol plan, previous versions should be kept on file so that you can refer back to treatments that have worked in previous situations,” Zook said. “Be sure to keep the treatment protocol plan on file where those who need it can find it easily. Putting it in a file cabinet is not automatically the best place on a ranch.”

A tip many find useful is for the producer to consult with a veterinarian when writing the plan.

Treatment records are important because:

  • Cattle not responding to therapy may require a delayed drug clearance, and good records would indicate if this were the case.
  • Extra-label drug usage is permitted only under Food & Drug Administration guidelines involving a veterinarian/client/patient relationship, making individual animal identification and treatment records paramount.

Veterinarian Dr. Barry Whitworth, an Oklahoma State Cooperative Extension food animal quality and health specialist, said the treatment protocol plan tells the consulting veterinarian what treatments are being applied, enabling them to make sure treatment recommendations are being followed and to judge whether treatment regimens need to be adjusted.

Whitworth and Zook said treatment records should include: individual animal/group identification; the date treated; the product administered and manufacturer’s lot/serial number; dosage used; route and location of administration; earliest date the animal will have cleared the withdrawal period, and name of the person administering the product.

“All cattle, including dairy beef shipped for harvest, should be checked by appropriate personnel to assure that all prescription withdrawal times for animal health products administered have been met or exceeded for animals that have been treated,” Whitworth said.

In addition, a copy of all processing and treatment records should be transferred with cattle to the next production level.

“Prospective buyers need to be informed of any cattle that have not met recommended withdrawal times,” Whitworth said.

Proper injection sites

Since many cow/calf operations “work” their calves — castrating males, immunizing against blackleg and, in some situations, vaccinating calves for respiratory diseases — it is key that proper protocols are kept in place.

Correct administration of any injection is a critical control point in beef production and animal health, noted Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension emeritus animal scientist.

“There is a negative relationship between meat tenderness and injection sites, including injection sites that have no visible lesion,” he said. “ In fact, intramuscular injections, regardless of the product injected, may create permanent damage, regardless of the age of the animal at the time of injection.”

Cow/calf producers need to be aware that tenderness is reduced in a 3 in. area surrounding the injection site. Moving the injection site area to the neck stops damage to expensive steak cuts.

“Producers should make certain their family members — and hired labor, if applicable — are sufficiently trained as to the proper location of the injections before the spring calf-working begins,” Selk said. “Also, take care to always follow all label instructions when administering injections.”

Subcutaneous means under the skin; intramuscular means in the muscle. Some vaccines allow for a choice between intramuscular and subcutaneous administration.

“Always use subcutaneous as the method of administration when permitted by the product’s label,” Selk said. “Remember to ‘tent’ the skin for subcutaneous injections unless instructed otherwise by the manufacturer.”

Selk added that proper injection technique is just one of many components of the BQA effort, which has had a positive effect on the entire U.S. beef industry.

“It’s important to follow the guidelines as the program raises consumer confidence through offering proper management techniques and a commitment to quality within every segment of the beef industry,” Selk said.

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