Rule of thumb — treat your vaccines like your beer. Do so, and one of the most important — and least obvious — ranch or feedlot biosecurity measures will be satisfied.

Like beer, you can completely destroy a vaccine by storing and handling it poorly. It might still look good in the bottle, but after all is said and done, you've done little or nothing to protect your herd.

Just go to a branding or hang around where herd work is being done and look at the coolers. How many times have you seen beer kept in a brand-new one? The bottles or cans are treated like gold, covered up to the neck with ice, nicely arranged, grouped by brand and type — ready for use. Well, okay maybe that's going a bit far.

Then look at the cooler with the cow vaccine. Yikes! Is it in a tiny little thing, old and cracked and with a lid that doesn't close right (or even without a lid)? Ice? Maybe. But probably not enough to cover the vaccines that were dumped in the cooler.

Okay, this tells us something about some of our priorities. Let's try to rethink that.

Livestock vaccines are fragile. Like beer, they need to be kept properly refrigerated, but never frozen, from the time you buy them until they're used. This is especially true of the modified-live virus (MLV) vaccines. Remember, these are products where the freeze-dried powder and fluid need to be mixed before use. They depend on actually being alive and growing to work.

Do you open all your beers at once, set them out on the fence, dashboard or tailgate and drink them a couple hours later when they're warm and flat? No sir.

Like beer, vaccines are good at most for a couple of hours, even if refrigerated. If left to get warm or allowed to sit in the sun, their useful life can be reduced to minutes, not hours. Even if stored at room temperature, their life span is shortened tremendously. MLV vaccines should be mixed as needed; not all at once. Any time saved by mixing ahead will be more than lost by the deterioration of the vaccine.

Treat your vaccine like your beer and the quality of your animal-health program will do nothing but improve. By the way, some beer has a “born-on” date. All vaccines have an expiration date check it out before you plan to use it. If it will be expired, take the product back.

Let's say we bought a new cooler, filled it with ice and have the freshly purchased vaccines stored correctly. We're ready to administer the products. Before we begin, think through how these products will be administered.

First, your beer is in a clean bottle or can, right? For those who drink beer out of a glass, let's hope the glass was washed in soap and water after its last use. The point: vaccines need to go into a clean, well-rinsed syringe and administered with clean, sharp needles of the proper size and length.

Next, do you hand a beer to your 10-year-old grandkid ' or to someone who never touches the stuff? Let's hope not. Enough said. Put your vaccine in the hands of someone who can handle it properly.

Finally, at the end of the day when you're actually ready for a beer, any leftover vaccine or opened or mixed bottles should be disposed of. You wouldn't save a half bottle of beer for the next branding — the same holds true for your vaccine. The few dollars you lose in wasted vaccine is nothing compared to the diminished value of the cattle given a nonfunctional vaccine.

If you wouldn't do it to your beer, don't do it to your vaccine.

This article is adapted from “The Back End of a Squeeze Chute,” by Herbert M. “Tim” Richards III, DVM Kahua Ranch Ltd., Kamuela, HI.

Clint Peck is director, Beef Quality Assurance, Montana State University.

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