Pulling blood is one of the simplest complex sounding things you can do as a goat owner. But doing it yourself is a lot cheaper than doing it with a veterinarian!
Steps for Pulling Blood (with pictures!)
GET YOUR SUPPLIES READY
To pull blood you will need:
- Luer lock syringe (6 ml size) & 20 gauge 1 1/2 inch needles designed to lock into the syringe. Don’t cheap out and buy the syringes where the needle just pushes onto the syringe – that won’t hold for this technique!
- OR you can pull blood without a syringe and instead use a vacutainer tube holder with a 20 gauge 1 1/2 inch long needle designed to be used with vacutainer tubes. You cannot use regular needles with the vacutainer holder because the needle must be double sided.
- Red top vacutainer tubes. These are what you need for CAE/CL/Johnes blood testing. Check with your state agricultural diagnostic lab or your vet about the specific test you are doing because you may need a different colored top vacutainer tube. The different colors indicate what type of stuff is in the tube that will interact with and preserve/separate/clot the blood inside.
- Alcohol for disinfection and to get the hair on the neck to lay down. Remember that alcohol can erase permanent marker! Keep it away from your tubes after labeling!
- A permanent marker for labeling the red top tubes. Follow the guidelines for labeling that your veterinarian or state lab require (usually animal name or tag number and then the number of the vacutainer tube out of the series of tubes you collected off the animal).
- A plastic ziploc to put tubes into after being filled so you don’t get them dirty
- The paperwork required by your vet or state lab that must be sent in with the samples. It is a lot easier to remember an animal’s ear tag number when its in front of you instead of sitting at your desk later!
- Gloves if you don’t like blood on your hands
- You may need ice IF your test requires that the blood be kept cold. CAE/CL/Johnes blood should be stored in the fridge but in reasonable temperatures the tubes can be left in the shade for a while without being on ice while you work animals.
Supplies can be ordered from Valley Vet, Jeffers Livestock, or PBS Animal Supply (the last option is usually the cheapest). If all you need is needles and syringes you can drop by your local Tractor Supply or feed store. Most goat tests will require at least 1 ml of blood per test, (so there is enough to redo the test if there is a problem or to perform replicates of the test to insure accuracy). If you have 3 tests you want run, (ex: CAE/CL/Johnes), you will need at least 3 mls, but ideally 5-6 mls. A single vacutainer holds something like 10 mls, but because of the constraints of reality, like lost vacuum or broken tubes, it is better to plan to have 3 vacutainer tubes available to pull blood from 1 animal. Plan your syringe purchases and vacutainer tube numbers accordingly.
You will have to buy a lot more vacutainer tubes/syringes and needles than you need for this one cycle of disease testing if you buy online because you have to buy in lots of set numbers. Typically vacutainer tubes can only be purchased in lots of 25 tubes, and these tubes have an EXPIRATION DATE. If the tube is past its expiration date it will not hold vacuum well anymore. This is a big deal if you are using the vacutainer holder, needle, and tube method of getting blood. You can still use the expired tube, but since the vaccum is bad the tube won’t draw blood like it should and you’ll end up going through six tubes to get 1 ml of blood out of an upset and stressed goat. It’s a pain, so try to plan to avoid having a bunch of unused tubes after the expiration date is passed.
Check with your veterinarian or the local state lab about exactly what kind of vacutainer tube and storage you need for the test you want to do. Make sure your state lab can do the test you want and you are getting blood the way they need it! CAE/CL/Johnes/ Tuberculosis/Brucellosis should be available in most states, though sometimes there is an additional charge to send a sample to another lab to complete these tests. Search for your state’s ‘agricultural diagnostic lab’ on google and call them – most often you can submit your sample directly to them and forgo the ridiculous expense of calling out a vet to pull a few milliliters of blood off a goat. This varies by state however. In Georgia you will have to have a vet sign off on the blood sample you send in regardless of whether you pulled it yourself or the vet did. In North Carolina a goat owner can submit directly to the Rollins Diagnostic Lab without a vet sign off.
GET THE GOAT (and hold it)
When drawing blood from a goat, unless you are very experienced, buy some beer and bribe a buddy to hold the goat. Begin by tying the goat to something very solid by its collar or preferably by a halter. You will be pulling blood from the neck vein of the goat.
Position the goat so that the holder is standing over the goat behind the head, grasping the animal either by its horns or gently by the back of the head and under the neck. You have 2 neck veins – which means you get 2 shots at getting this right if you screw up badly! Not bad odds. Let us assume you want to go for the left neck vein. Have the holder turn the goat’s head to the right. This will expose the left side of the neck.
The goat neck vein runs in a groove between the neck muscle on the left and the trachea on the right. You want to stick the groove. Not the trachea! Not the cartilage! Not the muscle! To do this, first find your trachea, which leads down the neck on the right of the vein. It will feel like a 1/2 – 1 inch diameter solid tube that moves a little bit under the skin. You may be able to fill the rings in the trachea – these are the cartilaginous supports that keep the trachea open.
Now that you’ve found the one thing on the goat you really DON’T want to stick, keeping track of it, move your hand towards the goat’s left shoulder, slowly. Find the groove in the neck between the trachea and the neck muscle. This is easy to see on short haired goats, but on cashmeres and bucks you may have to feel around a bit. If you really can’t see or feel anything, wet the hair down with alcohol to improve visibility or shave the hair off if you have clippers. Once you find the groove, gently pass your hand over it. You should be able to feel, very faintly a sort of “fire hose” or “water bed” like consistency. This is the vein you want! It will run inside that groove all the way up the neck.
Follow the groove of the neck down, keeping track of your fat watery vein. When you’re almost to the bottom of the neck, take your thumb and press, hard, on the vein. This is “holding off”, or basically, blocking off most of the blood flow so that the vein gorges with blood and pops up. It doesn’t hurt the horned minion in the least, but it makes your life pulling blood a thousand times easier because you can see the vein (usually) and you have a much bigger target to hit now.
HOW TO STICK A GOAT – With vacutainer holder (recommended for beginners)
Ready your supplies. You do not have to hold off the vein while doing this. Make sure you have 3 vacutainer tubes within easy reach. Make sure your vacutainer holder has a needle loaded in it. For those new to pulling blood, there are two sides to the vacutainer needle. There’s the sharp pointy needle, and then the other side is like a shorter needle with a rubber cover over it. The cover prevents blood from leaking, but you won’t know you’ve hit a vein if you aren’t very experienced unless you see blood leaking out. For the sake of your personal suffering, remove the little rubber cover. Now you have a needle screwed into the vacutainer holder, with the rubber cover removed.
Have your holder assume the position, with the goat’s head turned. Hold off the vein. Once you are certain you see the vein, pick a good spot on the neck. Now, the vein is DEEPER than you think it is just by looking at it. Take your needle and plunge it straight into the neck where you think the vein is, until ~ 1/2 of the needle’s length is in the neck. I have found that a sharp, confident jab works best. If you’re nervous, go fast.
Then, turn the needle to go up, as if you are trying to thread your way into the vein. If you hit the vein, you will see a flash of blood dripping out of your rubber cover removed needle end. You’re in! Holding the needle steady, grab a vacutainer tube and push the red rubber top onto the needle bit that used to have the rubber cover. The blood flow should jump up and shoot into the tube because the vacuatiner is vaccum sealed – you’re vaccuming blood out of the animal now! When you have enough blood, REMOVE THE VACUTAINER FROM THE NEEDLE/HOLDER FIRST THEN REMOVE THE NEEDLE FROM THE ANIMAL. The vacutainer will reseal itself automatically and you can put it on the ground. If you need another tube of blood, don’t remove the needle from the animal. Just take the filled vacutainer off the needle/out of the holder by gently pulling it free and stick a new tube on the needle and keep going. When you have all the blood you need, remove your last vacutainer and then, only after the vacutainer is removed, gently pull the needle back out and apply light pressure to the wound.
Realistically, most vacutainers will only draw about 4-6 mls of blood before the vacumm seems to wear off. This is why you need several tubes to get the job done for a single animal. Once you use a tube once – that is, put it in the vacutainer holder and stick the needle through the lid then remove it from the needle/holder – the vaccum is gone. The tube is not reusable – you can’t just stick it back on again and try once more. However, you can use a needle and syringe to inject blood into the vaccum less tube for shipping as the tube remains sterile. This can help you save on expensive tubes.
If you pull the needle out while the vacutainer is still attached you will “blow the vein” because the vaccum of the vacutainer pulls the vein apart. This is not that bad! The goat will be okay – but it is more painful for the goat and you won’t be able to reuse that vein for pulling blood for several days. I have blown veins, I still blow veins – it is part of the learning curve. But nobody likes to piss off a goat. They can be very grumpy.
What if you stick the vacutainer holder needle into the goat and no blood comes out? No, you do not have a zombie goat. You’ve just missed the vein. Make sure you were holding off the vein and that you have an idea of where the vein is, (you can feel or see it). If you followed the horizontal then vertical method of inserting the needle, carefully pull the needle back towards you, slowly. Watch for a dribble of blood. If you pull back and the dribble comes, but then stops…you’ve probably pulled the needle back through the vein and out the other side. Push forward slightly till you see blood again. If you are damn sure you’re in the vein, and it was bleeding, but now is not, rotate the needle clockwise 1/2 a turn to take the needle tip off the wall of the vein that it might be stuck to. If neither of these methods work, you are on a fishing expedition. Trying backing the needle out, pushing it forward, and moving side to side to try and hit the vein. Remain holding off the entire time to keep the vein gorged with blood.
Wait! I had blood coming out…but now I don’t??? A goat moves. You move. Your handler, depending on the number of pre-operation beers may move a lot. The needle can come out of the vein. You can either leave the vacutainer tube on and hunt for the vein you slid out of, (in which case you cannot remove the needle from the animal’s flesh or you will blow the vein) or take the vacutainer off the holder (this vacutainer cannot be reused – the vaccum is blown, but the blood inside is good and can be sent in for testing) and then pull out the needle and restab the goat to get a better spot.
Don’t forget to label your tubes with the goat’s ID and the tube number, (if you pulled 3 tubes of blood, label them “GOAT A TUBE 1”, “GOAT A TUBE 2”, and “GOAT A TUBE 3” or similiar).
HOW TO STICK A GOAT – With a regular old needle and syringe (not recommended for beginners)
Attach needle to syringe. Get holder to hold the goat’s head and hold off the vein. Break the seal on the syringe by pulling back the plunger, then pushing it back up to expel the air. Don’t leave air in the syringe! Air bubbles are bad for circulatory systems. Breaking the seal will make the syringe slide more easily. This technique requires using a single hand to operate the syringe and pull back on the plunger while the other hand holds off the vein, hence it is more difficult than the technique above, despite being simpler in appearances.
Stab the goat where you think the vein is, first horizontally for 1/2 the needle length or more, then pointing vertically to ‘thread the vein’. Pull back on the plunger. If you have lots of resistance, you aren’t in the vein…you’re in the muscle. Fish around with the needle and try to get in the vein. If you are in the vein, when you pull back you’ll see a dribble of blood. Continue to pull back until you have the amount you need. Stick the syringe needle through the lid of a red top tube. Let go. The vaccum will suck the blood out of the syringe. You are done.
HOW TO STORE BLOOD
Blood is perishable. For CAE/CL/Johnes blood testing, store your tubes in the fridge in an upright position, (though they can set outside for a short while while you are collecting blood). Separation of the sera (yellow fluid) and clotting of the blood is normal and desirable. Send your samples for testing within 1-3 days of collection.
HOW TO SHIP BLOOD
Oh man, this is like a chapter in and of itself. Always provide 3 solid layers of containment around your blood samples as they are considered biohazard. This means at least 3 ziploc bags nested one inside the other around your tubes! Call your shipper and make sure they can take your blood samples and at which locations and what paperwork they require you to submit to them. Fedex will not accept blood samples at all locations! Remember that you must OVERNIGHT SHIP and you must keep your samples chilled.