Preconditioning BQA: Maximize Health and Success in the Feed Yard

October 15, 2015 10:20 AM
Preconditioning BQA: Maximize Health and Success in the Feed Yard

Preconditioning is a set of management decisions relating to vaccination, weaning, nutrition and housing that maximize health and future growth potential of cattle in the feed yard.
By: Joe Darrington, SDSU Extension Livestock Environment Associate

Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) is a set of best management practices to limit carcass losses and to avoid violative residues in beef carcasses. This article will focus on topics important to preconditioning programs.

Preconditioning with BQA in mind 

Injection site selection – All injections should be given in the injection triangle of the neck or the ear (Excede™) per label directions. The triangle boundaries on a 500 lb calf are 2-3 inches above the transverse processes of the cervical vertebrae (bony points felt under the skin on both sides of the neck, about halfway up the neck), 2-3 inches in front of the point of the shoulder, and 2-3 inches below the topline of the neck. Impacting the vertebrae will cause the animal to move more as the outer portion of the bone is very sensitive, and will dull the needle prematurely.


Figure 1. (Above right) Injection Site Selection: yellow space is injection area.
Figure from National BQA manual.

Injections given too high can end up in the nuchal ligament which can lead to ineffective vaccination or treatment. Injections into the shoulder can affect the yield of higher value cuts, and swelling/abscessation in this area can lead to decreased mobility and pain.

  • If given the choice, give all injections subcutaneously (SQ) under the skin. Choose products that are approved for SQ administration.
  • Avoid giving more than 10 ml (cc) per injection site and space injections approximately 4 inches apart when possible.
  • Injection area should be free of manure and as clean as possible. Needles can draw surface contamination into the injection site which increases the risk of infection and abscess formation.

Needle Size Selection

In weaned calves (300-700 lb) use 16-18 gauge, ½ - ¾ inch needles for SQ administration and 16-18 gauge, 1-1 ½ inch needles for intramuscular (IM) administration. It is important to use the smallest needle size possible without increasing the risk of bent and broken needles. A chart with recommended needle sizes across a wider range of weights can be found at the end of this document.

  • Needles should be changed immediately if bent, dull, or burrs develop, or after every 10-15 head. Remember, straightening bent needles increases the chance that the needle will break off in a calf.
  • Broken needles that are not immediately recovered from a calf are a food hazard, and the animal cannot enter the food supply. Identify the animal, keep proper record of it, and dispose of the animal on farm at the end of its productive life.

Vaccine Handling 

Fall temperatures are variable. Vaccine, especially modified-live products, must be handled carefully in order to ensure effective vaccination. Remember that if your practices inactivate, or compromise the vaccine efficacy, you might as well inject the calves with sterile water. Be mindful of how you handle vaccine, don’t waste your time and money.

  • Do not use sanitizers on syringes/needles used for modified live vaccine, as residual sanitizer can inactivate the vaccine. Consult your veterinarian for best practices when cleaning your syringes.
  • Do not allow vaccine to sit in sunlight, solar radiation can inactivate live products.
  • A cooler chute-side can be used to hold vaccine at recommended temperatures (35-45 °F).
  • Do not store reconstituted vaccine in a vehicle without a cooler. Dashboard temperatures can exceed 100 °F, even in cool weather.
  • DO NOT use a dirty needle to draw up vaccine from the bottle.
  • Use modified live vaccine within hours after mixing, do not hold overnight.

Low Stress Handling

Since this is often a group of calves’ first time being processed, it is essential to utilize low stress handling techniques and make it a positive first experience. Take adequate time, minimize noise and distractions, ensure adequate light/daylight, employ enough help, and limit the use of electric prods to improve the overall working experience for calves. Cattle will remember this experience, and a positive one can minimize cattle flow problems in the future. Minimizing the stress response in calves will also allow for a better vaccine response.


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