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Discussing the Dart Delivery Method for Treating Cattle

July 25, 2016

Cattle ranchers strive to minimize the stress of handling and disease on their animals. One way they can do this is by implementing new technologies for delivering medications to sick animals while out in remote pastures. During the July 6th Animal Care Wednesday Webinar, Rob Eirich, Nebraska BQA Coordinator, discussed considerations and challenges of using remote delivery devices for administering medication to animals.

Remote Delivery Devices: Benefits
Remote delivery devices come in various forms, pole syringes or dart delivery systems (pneumatic, CO2, or .22 charged). These tools have gained popularity with ranchers in the last few years. Several benefits of using remote delivery devices include

  • Safer for people and animals
  • Provides medication to animals without restraint
  • More convenient and quicker delivery
  • Easier to medicate bad temperament cattle
  • Popular in remote grazing situations on pasture or crop residue.

Concerns & Other Considerations
Despite these benefits, discussion continues within the beef industry about whether these tools can ensure accurate and proper delivery of medications that meet the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines. Eirich shared four BQA concerns that cattlemen should consider when deciding whether to use remote delivery devices for treating sick animals in their herds.

  1. Ensure the Best Welfare of the Animal: It is important to be confident in a proper diagnosis of the animal’s condition for appropriate treatment; this can be difficult when hoof problems are suspected if the animal is not restrained for further investigation. What are your restraint options? Consider your location, facilities, and the tools you have to do what’s best for the animal and its condition. Especially remember that keeping the animal AND the caregiver safe is the top priority.
  2. Proper Injection Site: The proper injection site is in front of the shoulder within the triangle of the neck region. To successfully deliver medication in this region, it takes accuracy and skill of the person using the remote delivery device. Additionally, BQA recommends 10cc of product per injection site and injections should be space approximately 4 inches apart. This requires more skill and ideal weather conditions to accomplish! Cattlemen need to remember that these tools and the accuracy of each shot is dependent on weather, the distance to the animal, charge/force used in the gun, and the weight of the product in the dart.
  3. Correct Route and Dosage: Injectable medications are indicated for a certain route of administration, typically intermuscular (IM) or subcutaneous (SQ). Darts have two different kind of needles to assist with delivery via each route. Needles that release product only out the tip should be used for IM injections, whereas, needles that release product through multiple ports along the needle should be used for SQ injections. The challenge is guaranteeing that the product is actually being released in the proper location when given with a dart since the caregiver isn’t able to tent the skin or adjust the angle of the needle upon entry. Other considerations are the challenge of estimating the animal’s weight to give the proper dose, using the appropriate sized dart for the amount of product that needs to be delivered, and choosing the proper needle size for the animal and the dart gun with consideration of the environmental conditions.
  4. Broken Needles: Federal regulations prohibit metal being embedded in meat. Thus, cattlemen need to be aware of observing animals that are darted to ensure the dart releases and no needles break off inside the animal. Eirich shared two examples of packers finding whole darts embedded in a round and a chuck; these incidents likely occurred from using a dart gun with too big of charge at a short distance. These two examples do not represent the majority of the beef supply and packers have various steps in place at the plant to ensure the safety of the meat. These embedded darts are a reminder that food safety should always be considered when choosing how to treat sick animals on the ranch.

The Bottom Line
Cattlemen have many tools that assist them in providing the best possible care for their animals. Every tool has its place and each situation should be evaluated to determine if treating a sick animal via a remote delivery device is the most appropriate option to ensure food safety, and the safety of the animal and caregiver.

More Information
For more information about remote delivery devices or BQA supplemental guidelines on the use of pneumatic dart guns, please refer to the “manuals” section of the Resource tab at the National Beef Quality Assurance website.

Source: Heidi Carroll, South Dakota State University