Research by experts at the University of Nottingham suggest current injection techniques found in the UK dairy industry need to change to avoid the risk of nerve injury.
The study discovered current methods of injection are more likely to damage the sciatic nerve – particularly in dairy animals with a low body condition score, such as recently calved cows.
Cattle farmers are facing challenges with regards to balancing profitability and the high standards of animal welfare expected by retailers and consumers.
Dr Wendela Wapenaar, associate professor of farm animal health and epidemiology, led the project at the university’s school of veterinary medicine and science.
Ms Wapenaar said: “Our study confirms there is a high risk of damaging sciatic nerve when injecting cows in the gluteal region (the rump or back end of the cow).
“In beef cattle, farmers and vets are already avoiding this region because of the value of the primal cut meat, however in dairy cattle this site is still used because of convenience.
“In our experiment, we asked anyone who had injected cattle in the gluteal region before to inject the left and right gluteal region in a cadaver, as if it were ‘a normal cow’. 69 per cent of participants injected within 5cms from the sciatic nerve and several participants injected right onto the sciatic nerve.
“We also discovered the nerve was a lot wider than ever before reported in textbooks. In the gluteal region, the nerve was 3.5 to 4.5cm wide, making it more difficult to avoid. The depth of the nerve was variable; the shallowest point between the skin surface and nerve was only 2.5cm. This depth was dependent on the cow’s body condition.”
Dr Wapenaar has been working closely with undergraduate student Rosanna Kirkwood, who adds: “I strongly advise to inject all cattle in the neck where possible. When this is not feasible and the gluteal region is used as a site for intramuscular injection then a more lateral location should be chosen.
“The region between the tuber coxae (hook bone) and the tuber ischium (pin bone) has a substantial muscle mass, and there are no underlying neurological structures at risk.
“This small change in injection technique may prevent nerve damage and we hope farmers and vets will take this advice on board.”