There’s an annoying tendency to among smallholders to keep advice overly simple to avoid upsetting newcomers and put them off keeping livestock.
I’ve run afoul of this attitude quite a few times when trying to explain aspects of pig and poultry keeping, most recently on the River Cottage forum.
This time, the subject was injectable wormers where various people reassured newcomers it was just a matter of sticking a needle in behind a pig’s ear or, indeed, “in the spot that I can get the needle in… Not professional but…”
The advice was all very friendly and reassuring, but over-simplifying how to inject a pig with medication risks endangering the livestock handler and to the animal.
I tried to explain that it’s vital to know different medications are intended to be administered in different ways and in different places, but ran afoul of the “keep it simple so you don’t scare newcomers” law.
So here are my thoughts on injecting a pig with medication, based on what our three pig vets have told me. (But please, check with your own vet first instead of taking this as gospel.)
Different medications have to be injected in different places as they are carried through the body in different ways.
As I understand it, there are three main methods for injecting a pig (as far as the livestock keeper/handler is concerned) and there are six main sites on a pig’s body where injections can be made.
Subcutaneous injections are those that administer medications into the layer of fat, the subcutis, that lies beneath the dermis and epidermis (the latter are the top two layers of skin).
Intravenous injections are those that administer medications directly into the bloodstream and should be made into veins.
Intramuscular injections are made into muscles.
In the case of a pig, subcutaneous injections should be done beneath the fold of skin on the inside of the thigh or beneath the skin of the shoulder (young animals); or two to three inches behind the ear and on a level with the base of it (mature animals).
Angle is important with the latter position—45 degrees according to our vets.
Intravenous injections should be done into the ear veins, the jugular or the large vein that leaves the heart. (I leave the latter two to the vets.)
The ear veins are commonly used for anaesthetics (leave these to the vet) and calcium injections (usually sows suffering blood loss after a difficult farrowing). Other medications may be administered in this way, but these are the two the vets said I was likely to come across.
I’d strongly suggest pig keepers get their vet to show them how to do an ear injection for the first time.
Intramuscular injections are usually done in what our vets call “the triangle”.
It’s an inverted triangle on the side of the neck, centred about 2.5 inches behind the base of the ear and in front of the shoulder.
In piglets with little neck musculature, our vets said it’s possible to inject into the hams a couple of inches in from and level with the tail or an inch or so in from the furthest curve of a hind leg.
The tail site is also used to administer oxytocin to farrowing sows.
Our vets advised us not to use either of the ham locations when injecting growers, finishers and older animals, except farrowing sows, as there’s a risk of abscesses forming.
In all cases, the animal being injected must be adequately and safely restrained.
As our vets have advised us on many occasions, It’s vital to inject medications in the correct way. If not, there’s a serious risk the medication may not work effectively or, worse still, cause complications.
As far as UK-approved pig wormers are concerned, Dectomax is administered as an intramuscular injection, while ivermectin is administered subcutaneously. (Note, the official Ivomec site is still under development.)
If pig keepers are advised to “stick a needle in behind the ear”, then there’s a strong chance they’ll administer whichever injectable wormer they’ve chosen incorrectly given that the two main wormers are administered in different ways.
So if you’re a novice or beginner pig keeper, remember that you have a responsibility for your animals’ welfare and that includes knowing how to administer medications correctly.
Contact your vet, ask their advice and get them to show you how and where to inject your pigs correctly—they’d prefer you do it properly so they don’t have to deal with the consequences of a botched job.
And despite what other sources say, I wouldn’t ask another pig keeper to demonstrate how to administer injections correctly as I suspect, from the advice I’ve read and heard, that far too many of them don’t know how to do it correctly themselves.