Mid-January might be past the traditional time for formulating resolutions, but here’s one that’s never late: Clean out the vet cupboard and fridge before the spring animal health work begins in earnest.
A properly stocked, inventoried and maintained set of vaccines and livestock equipment can result in less frustration, and fewer breakdowns and shortages, on days when that equipment is needed.
Vaccines and syringes
Taking a critical look at your arsenal of stored vaccines, as well as syringe maintenance and usage methods, should be at least an annual event. It deserves that kind of priority, say animal health experts.
“You need to look in your vet fridge for bottles that have been entered enough times to potentially be compromised, and throw those away. Any bottle with a stopper that’s been compromised should also be discarded, as it could be contaminated,” says Ron Gill, Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension specialist and professor. “I also tell producers that if they can’t read the label on a bottle, and aren’t sure what it is, they should discard those as well.”
Gill says any outdated vaccines, or those that will be outdated before the spring cattle work begins, should be discarded. “Or, if possible, trade with neighbors who work cattle earlier than you in order to utilize those vaccines before they expire,” he says.
When it comes to cleaning the inside of syringes, boiling water and sunlight are the two most effective options. Russ Daly, South Dakota State University Extension veterinarian, says to avoid soaps and disinfectants. Such products can inactivate modified-live virus (MLV) vaccines if the syringe is later used with them.
Pulling boiling water into glass-barrel syringes is an effective method. Storing the clean syringes in a zip-close bag will help keep them clean and ready for their next use.
Gill says taking the time to lubricate and manually inspect syringes is also necessary. He lists the O-rings and trigger mechanisms on older, pistol-grip models as two common potential problem areas.
“Parts of the trigger mechanism can chip, meaning you won’t always deliver a full dose. Another area that tends to give out is where the needle connects on the end — that metal piece that screws into a plastic housing will give out and begin to leak. It’s easier to check and replace that early, than remember it when it’s pouring your calf vaccine on the ground in the middle of branding,” he says.
That annual cleaning day is also an ideal time to label syringes for use. It’s critical to avoid using the same syringe to administer MLV and killed vaccines, as the adjuvant in killed vaccines can reduce or eliminate the efficacy of many MLV vaccines, Gill says.
Important medication to have on hand
In addition to the regular vaccines, Daly advises producers to have on hand a number of other important medications, particularly if you’re located far from your veterinarian.
“You should keep some epinephrine, which is available through your herd-health veterinarian, on hand in case you have a vaccine reaction. Antibiotics and antibody products are additional examples of medications that should also be kept on hand. Consult with your veterinarian on which additional products would be appropriate for your particular operation,” Daly advises.
Clean other equipment
When you’ve finished checking vaccines and syringes, grab a can of WD-40 and some soapy water. Then take a few minutes to clean and/ or lubricate items such as implant guns, ear taggers, dehorners and other tools that will be called into duty in the coming year.
Daly says gathering, organizing, cleaning and regrouping items needed for such jobs as calving, branding, weaning and other specific tasks is also critical. This ensures they’re in good working order in a known location when the time comes to use them.
“In addition, an inventory list of the necessary equipment for each task — disinfectant, lube, needles, vet sleeves, etc. — is very handy to use. When replacing items that are short or missing, ask your vet what they use in their daily work, and purchase accordingly,” Daly says.
Specific to branding, Gill says, “I like to take my branding irons out and actually wire-brush them clean. It makes branding day go better and will reduce how fast they deteriorate over time. Electric irons should be plugged in and checked, because they often get cords burned through without anyone ever noticing. Before you need them is the time to repair them yourself, or send them in.”
Products such as pour-ons, dewormers and disinfectants also have storage requirements. Often, some of these products get stored in cattle sheds and forgotten during the off-seasons, according to Daly.
“We sometimes assume these products are very stable over time and different temperature and light conditions. There are indications that medications, such as some pour-on dewormers, are more subject to deterioration over time than one might think. Starting over with fresh product will likely pay dividends in terms of better product effectiveness,” he says.
Assess herd health plan
“When you’re taking the time to clean and organize your vet supplies, it’s an excellent opportunity to assess your entire preventive herd health plan. Look at your common issues faced, your current practices, and see if you feel they need to be modified based on your results,” Gill says.
He suggests all producers also include multiple inventory sheets with their vet supplies in order to be aware of what they have in what volume, and when it expires.
“If you don’t have a current inventory log for your vaccines; semen, if you artificially inseminate; and other items that can expire, you should develop one. Write down the products that are in your vet chamber, cupboard, box, fridge, whatever. Include the quantity, bottle size and expiration date for vaccines, as well as straw count and date you filled your semen tanks. The more things you keep track of in an inventory-like fashion, the easier it will be to manage your vet supplies throughout the year,” he says.
Daly suggests using the vet cupboard and fridge cleaning as an opportunity to discuss product use and health program changes with your local veterinarian.
“Veterinarians deal with the issues of syringe maintenance, equipment and product choices every day. They are great resources to help you make the right choices on products, equipment, and cleaning and maintenance methods. Ask them what they are using, and what new products and techniques have been developed recently,” he says.
Is your farm fridge up to par?
Typically, the refrigerator in the shed that is entrusted with the storage of thousands of dollars of animal health products was relegated to the job when the family purchased a new fridge for the kitchen.
“Most people don’t put their best fridge in the barn, and it’s surprisingly common for those refrigerators to not maintain the proper temperature range that vaccines require. If vaccine hasn’t been held within the correct temperature range, it’s likely ineffective and should be discarded whether it’s outdated or not,” Gill says.
While temperatures that exceed the ideal 34-to-35-degree F range for storing vaccine products may be concerning, freezing is an even bigger concern.
But how do you know if your fridge is doing the job?
“Digital thermometers that record high and low temperatures are readily available and not that expensive. Placing one of these in your refrigerator can be a good check on how well it’s working,” Daly explains.
What are the odds that your fridge is keeping vaccines at the right temperature? Daly notes that a recent Arkansas project found that only 26% of farm refrigerators used for vaccine storage consistently kept the product within the correct temperature range.
“This indicates that most producers have a relatively simple opportunity in front of them. Finding the right refrigerator for vaccine storage can remove one potentially disastrous complication to a farm’s herd health,” Daly says.
Heather Maude is a rancher and freelance writer based in Caputa, S.D.
You might also like: