Properly Manage Your Livestock Medications

Proper storage, labeling, administering and knowledge of livestock medications are crucial parts of keeping your animals healthy.

by Anna O'Brien
PHOTO: Penn State/Flickr

Whether it’s penicillin or a pink-eye vaccine, livestock medications are crucial to the health of your animals. They depend on you for their care, and part of that is managing their medications. Here are some crucial tips for medication management in the barn.

Location, Location, Location

Aim to keep all barn medications in the same area and make sure it’s clean, dry, rodent-proof and temperature controlled. Some livestock medications—such as injectable penicillin and vaccines—must be kept refrigerated; others—such as injectable oxytetracycline—should be kept out of direct sunlight. For medications that need to be cold, keep your refrigerator in working order. This includes being aware of freeze spots that sometimes appear the back, where items might get frosty; inadvertent freezing can degrade medications, yielding them ineffective over time.

Additionally, keep all medicine-related paraphernalia in the same place. Syringes, sterile needles, balling guns, latex gloves and whatever else you need on hand should be kept in a clean container near the medication for quick and easy accessibility.


Each medication has a label that states what it is, the amount of active ingredient and dose. If livestock medications came from your vet, chances are the clinic put another label on it with your name, your animal’s name and dosing instructions. Keep all labels on your meds for identification purposes, and make sure they remain legible. If you can’t read what something is or its dosing instructions, never administer it. Call your veterinarian for clarification.

Withdrawal Times

Some livestock medications given to food-producing species have a withdrawal time. This is the time that must pass between when the medication is given and when the animal can be slaughtered for food or when her milk can enter the tank for consumption.

In essence, the withdrawal time is the time an animal must be “withdrawn” from the food chain. If you use your animals for food, it’s imperative that you know of any withdrawal times in medication you administer. All medications with withdrawal times should have the times clearly marked on their container.

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Calendar Care

Hang a wall calendar in the room where you keep your herd medications for marking the start and end of, for example, a round of antibiotics for a particular animal (and when this animal can re-enter the food chain, if there’s a withdrawal time). This also helps if you use timed artificial insemination and estrus synchronization for breeding purposes. Keeping track visually of when and which animals need what treatments helps you avoid confusion and mistakes.

Expiration Dates

Just as it’s good to maintain and update a first-aid kit, habitually check the expiration dates of your herd’s medications and adhere to this simple rule:

If it’s expired, throw it out.

Don’t try to save money by hanging onto old medications; you might be trying to treat an animal with something that’s not efficacious anymore, thereby delaying treatment. Worse, if the preservatives in a medication or vaccine have expired, they no longer prevent microbial or fungal growth.

Aversion to Conversions

Who can ever remember how many pints to a liter? How about tablespoons to milliliters? A simple conversion chart hung near your herd’s meds makes things easy. Those who are tech savvy can also use their smartphones. Likewise, if there’s a common calculation you use frequently, write it down and hang it on a pegboard for easy, quick reference.

Train Your Staff

Do other members of the family or staff work with your animals? Make sure everyone knows where the medications are and what they’re used for. Education and communication go hand in hand for a well-trained staff and healthy animals.

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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