Just a little stick: Administering vaccines to your pigs

  1. CathleenVought
    Though they don't provide 100% protection against disease, vaccines provide a significant advantage for most producers by protecting the majority of their livestock. There are a number of diseases that can be protected against using vaccination, which will be discussed in a future article. First, a quick thought on vaccination technique and effectiveness.

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    Vaccines can be administered three different ways: subcutaneously (SC), intramuscularly (IM) or intravenously (IV). For the average farmer, the first two are pretty easy and the third requires just a touch of training from your veterinarian.

    Subcutaneous (also referred to as SubQ, SQ or SC) injections go under the skin and happen by pinching and picking up a bit of loose skin and inserting the needle, being careful not to go through the back side. On pigs, subcutaneous injections are often administered behind the ear.

    Intramuscular involve piercing the muscle with the needle, drawing back on the plunger to see if blood enters the syringe (if it does, you've just hit a blood vessel and need to back out and try again) and then administering the medication. Intramuscular injections cause localized reactions, though, so it's best to avoid the prime meat cuts because it can damage the cut. The neck is an ideal place to perform an intramuscular injection.

    Though a number of farmers I know regularly use the same needle and syringe for their entire herd without any antiseptic, this really makes me twitch. Even if you're vaccinating against one disease, what good does it do if you infect the rest of the flock with whatever the first pig has? The better bet is to have a few needles on hand in a small jar of alcohol. Take a fresh needle for each pig and dump the old one in the alcohol to sanitize at the same time. Also, putting a quick swipe of iodine or alcohol means whatever your pig has been rolling in won't end up causing an abscess as the needle pulls it through.

    Vaccine effectiveness is another important item. There are a number of practices that will keep your pigs as healthy as possible by ensuring the vaccine you're using is the best possible quality. These include:
    • Purchasing your vaccine from a good-quality source.
    • Using non-expired serum.
    • Keeping it in a refrigerator. Though cold is good, freezing destroys vaccines.
    • Follow the label instructions.
    • Don't put multiple vaccines or medications in the same syringe or mix them.
    • Keep vial tops clean.
    • Keep the vial out of sunlight.
    • Use the proper injection technique.
    Image courtesy of the International Livestock Research Institute.

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