Reading Labels – It’s easy, it’s important

Treatment time is a critical period in the life of cattle. It is one of the most difficult times to manage animal stress, but those few moments at the headgate are your chance to get a good look at each individual and provide what’s needed for optimal health and productivity. Given what is at stake, it makes sense to take the time to read labels and become familiar with the vaccines, antibiotics and other products you will use.

Modern product labels, at least the ones on the containers themselves, are generally user friendly. Whether you are using a vaccine to protect against bovine respiratory disease (BRD) or treating an infection with antibiotics, the dosage, mode of delivery and withdrawal time are almost always printed in clear type directly on the container. Many products even present this information upside down. Invert the bottle to draw a dose and you can’t help but look directly at it. I recommend writing this information down, along with the treatment date, so you can pass complete records on to the next operation. It’s that simple. Don’t be intimidated by the fine type folded into the product insert. They contain great information, but this is mostly for the benefit of your veterinarian.

Dosage is typically listed first, because it varies widely by product and animal size. Incorrect dosages aren’t just dangerous, they can be expensive. Taking the time to review the label instructions will ensure you get the most value and effectiveness for your investment. This is especially critical when using a generic brand or new formulation. Medicines with similar effects can have very different dosing schedules.

Most medications are approved for injection. All injections should be given ahead of the slope of the shoulder, which avoids causing damage to expensive primal beef cuts. If an uncooperative animal or awkward headgate catch make this difficult, you can always bring the animal back through later or simply let it go. If the injection is critical and can only safely be given behind the shoulder slope, give the injection subcutaneously, and then record the animal’s ID and injection site for the next owner. Remember, safety first! Never jeopardize your safety, anyone else’s or the animal’s just to give an injection.

Withdrawal periods are probably the most important of all label information. Healthy animals will have a built-in four- to five-month withdrawal period after their weaning-time vaccinations. However, cattle that require further treatment will need to be monitored to make sure all medications have cleared their system and that information will need to be recorded. Observing labeled withdrawal periods is crucial to product safety and maintaining consumer confidence.

Records provide proof that you followed the guidelines for a treatment program. More importantly, at final sale time, they ensure each animal is healthy and ready to enter the food system. When requested, commercial feedyards can usually produce the paperwork for any given carcass within 20 minutes to half an hour. While the process isn’t as formal, quality and safety assurance measures should be no different, if not more stringent, for cattle we cull from the herd early or send to the local locker.

Reading and following label directions is a simple, but tremendously important part of proper cattle care. Thanks to the partnership of producers, regulatory agencies and product manufacturers, doing the right thing is easier than ever.

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