Kerry Rood DVM


The 4-H program provides youths from all backgrounds the opportunity to raise, care for and show livestock. If youths understand how to take vitals, properly administer antibiotics, and understand vaccination programs, they will be better prepared to raise a healthy animal.

The ability to check vitals is an important skill to have. When youths can accurately and safely take vitals, they can assist the veterinarian when called. The normal temperature for adult cattle is 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit and 101 to 103 degrees for newborns. To take the temperature, put the animal in a chute where it will not be able to kick you. Lubricate the end of the thermometer and gently insert into the animal’s rectum, but continue holding the end of the thermometer. The tip of the thermometer should rest against the rectal wall.

The normal pulse rate for adult cattle is 40 to 80 beats per minute and 80 to 100 beats per minute for a newborn. Take the pulse by locating an artery (the external maxillary artery crosses the lower edge of the jaw) and applying gentle pressure with your fingers. Count the number of pulses for 15 seconds and multiply the number by four to calculate beats per minute. Adult cattle have a respiration rate of 20 to 40 breaths per minute. To find this, watch the flank of the animal for inhale and exhale and determine whether the respiration is normal or abnormal. Respiration can be increased by factors such as hot weather or stress, but also when an animal is in pain or has a fever.

Antibiotics play an important role in beef production and have brought many benefits, including reducing animal pain and suffering, the assurance of continuous food production, the prevention of shedding zoonotic bacteria, and containment of epidemics that could result in severe loss of animal and human lives. Although the benefits are numerous, it is essential that individuals administering antibiotics are aware of proper administration and withdrawal periods associated with antibiotic use. All antibiotics will have a “withdrawal period” on the label, which is the time necessary for an animal to metabolize the drug administered at a safe, acceptable level. All antibiotics are labeled with instructions on withdrawal period, dosage, and method of injection. When followed, the risk of antibiotic residues is greatly reduced.

Diseases in beef cattle are managed via some type of vaccination program. Vaccinations should be given multiple times in an animal’s life to decrease the probability of infection. For example, animals should be vaccinated prior to weaning as this is a stressful time in their lives. Animals remaining in the herd should be vaccinated annually, and animals transitioning to a new environment should be vaccinated to prevent becoming infected or infecting new animals they might be exposed to. Always consult a veterinarian for the best type of vaccine for your herd and about properly administering a vaccine so it is the most effective. The most commonly used clostridial vaccination in cattle is the seven-way type, which protects against blackleg, malignant edema and three types of enterotoxemia.

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USU assistant professor and Extension beef specialist Matt Garcia; Karah Nay, USU Extension assistant professor; and Chelsea Walker, USU student intern contributed to this column

Kerry Rood, DVM, teaches at the Utah State University School of Veterinary Medicine. He may be contacted at or 435-797-1882.

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