Use with Caution

by John Maday

Pneumatic darts provide a tool for drug delivery, but only the user can minimize negative consequences

In our September Issue, “Dart Dilemma” researchers outlined some of the potential downsides to using pneumatic darts, or remote drug delivery (RDD) to treat cattle with antibiotics. Those downsides include threats to beef quality assurance (BQA), antibiotic dosing and residue concerns, animal injuries, human safety and more.

On the other hand, darts are currently used on many U.S. ranches, and “darting” cattle can, in some situations, save time and labor, allow treatment of animals that would otherwise go untreated, or avoid stress associated with roundup and transport for conventional treatment.

With that in mind, the industry needs to clarify situations in which RDD might be appropriate, along with practices that can minimize unintended consequences.

Oklahoma veterinarian Scott Sturgeon is working to achieve those goals with his clients. Many of which are large stocker operators in western Oklahoma who graze cattle on isolated leased pastures, with no on-site processing facilities and are a long way from a squeeze chute. In that setting, he says, RDD is an efficient and viable tool for treating sick cattle, because the alternatives involve roping and restraining the animal on-site, assembling portable processing facilities or transporting the sick animal for processing elsewhere.

Sturgeon stresses the need for a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) to set clear treatment protocols, make accurate diagnosis, determine proper drugs and dosages, ensure familiarity with equipment, stress safety considerations and adhere to BQA principles.

Target practice and a close shooting distance are critical for antibiotic stewardship and animal health.

“Take the time needed to get a good shot,” Sturgeon advises. If a producer is using RDD as an alternative to more labor-intensive options, he or she can afford to take a few extra minutes to get in position for an effective shot from 15 yards or less.

A single dart loaded with one of the more expensive antibiotics puts the treatment cost around $30. A missed shot doubles that cost.

     As for misuses that violate BQA guidelines, Sturgeon sees a need for continued education. The person who would dart an animal in the rump would likely ignore BQA guidelines and product labels when medicating cattle in a chute. Producers want to do the right thing, he adds. They simply need more education on antibiotic stewardship.

Know your drug and your target. Product choice is critical, Sturgeon says. He educates his clients to not use Excede in RDD, for example, as the product is approved only for injection in the ear. He also discourages producers from using Micotil in RDD because of human safety concerns. A part of the VCPR, he works closely with his clients to ensure RDD can deliver the chosen products at the approved dose.

Sturgeon also stresses the importance of adhering to all basic firearm safety rules. Practice is critical, he says. Most ranchers are familiar with firearms and their use, but still need to spend time using the RDD rifle and darts on targets, to help ensure accuracy when they use the devices on animals.

      !Cautions to Consider

Acknowledging that the use of pneumatic carts to medicate cattle likely will continue, Texas A&M University veterinarian Dee Griffin offers this list of cautions and recommendations:

  • Darts should only be used when the animal’s health and well-being are in jeopardy.
  • Only in very rare situations would dart usage be acceptable in a confinement setting.
  • Never use a medication that requires more than one dart to deliver the needed dose.
  • Never use a medication in a dart with human-toxicity potential or drugs that could cause tissue damage in cattle when injected subcutaneously or intramuscularly.
  • Never attempt to dart a moving animal with a treatment medication.
  • Dart delivery should be as close to the animal as practical—never farther than 20 yards.


Source: Drovers October 2016

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