Tricks and tips for cattle processing day

Cattle processing day takes a great deal of planning for ranchers. These tips and tricks we offer can improve the accuracy of records, increase efficiency, and enhance the safety and experience for team members and cattle alike.
calendar icon 13 September 2021
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Oklahoma State

Cellphone Use: Limit cellphone usage during processing. Cellphones can cause distractions and loss of focus, which may lead to injuries for team members or cattle.

However, appropriate phone use can improve recordkeeping and document the day’s events. For example, taking a photo of the vaccine label, including the expiration date and serial number, is an easy and quick way to document the information for later transfer to more permanent records. Using smartphones’ camera and video to document the day’s events and sharing these images helps convey important beef industry messaging.

Sharp Stuff: Correct needle choices lead to safe and accurate vaccine administration and help prevent tissue damage. Always follow Beef Quality Assurance guidelines. Needle selection is based on cattle size. Generally, use the smallest size needle possible that will work without bending. Change needles frequently in accordance with biosecurity measures and at any signs of bending or breakage. Utilize a sharps container that meets disposal requirements for the safety of the processing crew and others. OSU Extension and Beef Quality Assurance have created a useful needle selection chart to print and post at

Single Use vs. Multi-Dose: Syringe selection is typically based on the number of cattle being processed. Disposable syringes are good choices for small groups and should be kept as backups even when multi-dose syringes are utilized. Multi-dose syringes should be calibrated regularly and delivery amount confirmed prior to and throughout the day.

When processing large groups of cattle, it is helpful to have two syringes for every vaccine given — one to administer and one to refill. Color-coding syringes is also a great idea to make certain there is no mixing of medications. Be careful when cleaning up, and don’t allow soap and disinfectants to enter the vaccine chambers of multi-use syringes.

Keep Cool: Maintaining medications, especially vaccines, at appropriate temperatures is critical. A portable refrigerator thermometer will help ensure that the temperature is between 35 and 45 degrees, especially in older or dorm-style refrigerators often used in the barn or garage. Medications requiring refrigeration can also be taken to the processing location in a portable cooler with ice packs. Vaccine coolers are relatively easy to make. An instructional OSU Factsheet is available at

Facilities: Inspect and repair all involved facilities well in advance. Pre-assign pen locations for certain categories of animals. Keep extra equipment on hand in the event of an emergency.

When planning, evaluate the flow of cattle through the facility with a particular focus on eliminating distractions and shadows that will impede cattle advancement. Remember to avoid overcrowding cattle, especially in areas like a tub. Additionally, make sure the entire team is set up and ready to process before loading cattle into the tub, lane or chute.

Safety First: Keeping all processing team members safe is the highest priority, immediately followed by the safety and welfare of all animals, including cattle and working horses. Train personnel on their assigned responsibilities in advance. Assignments should be clear and well understood. Assign jobs to one person only to avoid missing a required treatment or processing activity. The same examination/administration order should be followed throughout the day.

If a veterinarian has responsibilities such as pregnancy checking or brucellosis vaccination, have them go first. This allows for the safe performance of tasks without the animal moving or jumping. The veterinarian can then be done and step back for their required recordkeeping responsibilities.

In The Event of an Emergency: Identify the nearest emergency room services and communicate directions to the entire team. Keep a first-aid kit available onsite for minor injuries. It is always a good idea to have some pharmacy basics on hand as well, such as sunscreen, lip balm, drinking water and over-the-counter pain relievers and medications. Locations for sheltering should also be identified in case the weather turns dangerous. Rain gear is also good to have.

Recordkeeping, Efficiency and Communication: One of the most important responsibilities on processing day is recordkeeping. Maintain records for each individual animal or group. Document identification, treatment date, product information, dosage, administration location and route, withdrawal time and the individual administering the treatment.

Be prepared to note sorting criteria, such as weight or pregnancy status, as well as intended destination of all cattle handled. If tags are to be placed, have them marked and prepared in advance to prevent unnecessary delays.

Remember, cattle processing is not a race. The goal is to be efficient and accurate, not just fast. Typically, a lead team member will direct all communication and is often the chute operator. Direct all team members to focus on this team leader for both accuracy and safety.

Following tips like these, as well as accurate preparation, planning and training helps ensure a safe and efficient processing day for all involved.

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