Stocker uses dart gun to medicate cattle
Remote injection system reduces stress, labor
By Lindsay West
In today's cattle industry, reducing animal stress can save the producer unnecessary expenses, but finding a way to do so can be challenging.
Mark Waters of Pawnee, Okla., has found such a way to reduce stress in his stockers, using common sense and a little innovation.
Having ranched all his life, Waters is no stranger to running cattle. His stocker operation consists of 1,200 deeded and leased acres in north central Oklahoma, where lush grasses and rolling hills provide the ideal location for raising beef. Although his cattle numbers vary from year to year, Waters averages a turnover rate of 3,500 head annually.
When his wife Carolyn took an outside job away from the ranch, Waters had lots of land and cattle to manage on his own. So he began looking for an easier route to doctor his cattle without causing excess stress on the animal as well as himself. Finding a solution to eliminate the need to round up an entire herd just to doctor one or two calves would not only save time, but would allow Waters to complete the task on his own, without the need for extra labor.
That's where a good old fashion rifle came into place. Many cattlemen carry such a tool on a rack in the back glass of their pick-ups, however, this rifle isn't your normal coyote gun. It's a doctoring tool that fires specially designed darts loaded with medication into cattle. It's a tool, Water says, that's made his life easier.
"It's not that complicated," he said, "but I've used remote injections systems for 20 years.
"Let's say you've got a calf on a pasture 10 miles away and he's got some foot rot," Waters said. "Naxcel easily clears foot rot up, so instead of having to pull a bunch of cattle in and fetch a trailer and bring him back home, I can give him a shot from the truck and he'll be better the next day. It takes away all of the stress if they are sick."
The handmade 10cc darts can be loaded with medication to treat anything from scours to runny noses. If Waters spots a sick calf while checking cattle in his pick-up, he simply loads a dart with the necessary medicine just as you would fill a syringe, places the dart into the rifle's magazine, aims and fires at the ill animal.
Not only has this unique method of animal health care made managing his herd easier, Waters also says its cost effective. "I think the darts cost $3.35 a piece," he said. "I can't drive down my own driveway for that little with the way gas is today. You can carry it with you and doctor them right there, and right then. It's a real good, labor and cost saving tool."
Waters has sold several versions of his remote injection system and said his area in north central Oklahoma is most likely the highest concentrated area that uses them.
Waters points out before-and-after pictures of a calf before it was medicated with the dart system in the morning and then after being doctored that same afternoon.
"This old boy, oh, he was sick," he explained. "I had 85 head out in the pasture at that time and all the rest of them were down at the feed troughs eating and I found this one laying away from the rest. Instead of penning him, I shot him with some Baytril and some Naxcel."
"The next morning it was really foggy and I didn't know if he'd be dead or if I would have a tough time finding him." Waters then pointed out a picture of the animal that morning. "Since he was so sick, I went ahead and gave him two doses of A180 after that and saved him. He about paid for the gun right there."
"If you can doctor one when he first shows up sick, instead of waiting until the next morning, it makes it a whole lot easier on everybody. You can give him a shot right then and that's all you'll have to give him. If you wait a few days, you'll end up doctoring him for a week."
Waters said that after incorporating the remote injection system into his operation, he has virtually eliminated the need for a sick pen. "I would take the horse and pen them in a sick pen but I don't have to do that anymore. I sure miss a horse once in a while, but it got to the point it was more trouble than it was worth to me."
"Instead of pulling in 30, 40 or even the whole bunch when I see a couple of cattle that are sick and run them around in that heat to get to the two that I wanted to doctor, I will have made three or four more sick," Waters said. "So I'll just doctor them right where they are and leave them alone and not stress them. It's all about stress."
"It's a real handy tool. I would have a hard time operating without it."