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5 tips for better beef quality

Tips from the Beef Quality Assurance program to make handling and vaccinating less stressful for the animals and handlers.

“We talk a lot about slowing down so you can be fast,” says Travis Meteer, University of Illinois Extension beef educator, as he talks about ways to create a safe and efficient cattle working facility. “You want the kind of set up that allows one person to sort, operate the chute and deliver the injection; it’s a lot less stress on the operator and the animal.”

Meteer says a safe environment for handling and vaccinating is a key component to the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program.

Here are 5 BQA-friendly handling and vaccinating tips:

1. Round’em up
Meteer says one of the biggest handling mistakes in a working facility is using the sweep pen as a holding pen. “Those pens are meant to put cattle into that alley, they are not designed to hold animals,” Meteer says. “The size of your alley determines how many head are brought into the sweep pen.”

Instead, use two or more sorting pens in front of a squeeze chute and never crowd a pen more than three-quarters full. Alex Head, Head Cattle/Dipper Farmers, explains they bring 150 cows into the “big holding pen”, 15-20 into a smaller pen behind the chute and four cows feed into the sweep pen and then the chute.

2. Use the cattle’s natural tendencies
“Cattle like to relieve pressure,” Meteer says. “There will be pressure on cattle in a sweep pen and they’ll want to relieve the pressure and go into the alley and squeeze chute where they feel more comfortable.”

Flow also comes into play.

“Cattle want to be with other cattle and they want to go back to where they came from,” Meteer says. A U-shape working facility provides a natural flow for cattle to follow.

3. Gently squeeze’em
Meteer says one of the biggest components of BQA is administering vaccinations the right way and in the proper location. “The squeeze component is crucial. If we can calm them down with a gentle squeeze in the chute, that makes this experience much better for the cattle and they’ll want to flow through this system consistently,” says Meteer. “Restraint also helps the operator by keeping the cow from jostling around.”

Buzz Iliff, a veterinarian from Wyoming, Ill., says the squeeze chute also gives good access to the neck for vaccinating, which is “critical for BQA”.

The squeeze chute has been a lifesaver for us,” adds Head. “It’s one of the better investments we’ve made for working cattle.” Head notes the For-Most squeeze chute is quiet and offers various access points and adjustable parts for different tasks.

4. Pick the right needle size
Iliff suggests using a 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch, no larger than a 16 or 18 gauge needle, to administer vaccines. He notes some antibiotics may require a larger gauge needle.

5. Aim for the right spot
“Even on cows, with Lutalyse or Estrumate, the best place for that is in the neck instead of back of the hip or top butt,” Iliff explains.  Why the neck? Iliff explains if a baby calf is given a shot at the top of the hip, and it doesn’t abscess out, there will be a piece of gristle one inch in diameter when it goes to market. “That ruins a top round roast,” Iliff notes.  “That buyer won’t buy from them (the producer) again. And word gets around.”

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