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Research shows increased performance as a result of cattle implants

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Ranchers can get increased performance by implanting their calves, but keep in mind the importance of implanting the calves correctly to maximize gains.         Galen Erickson, Extension beef specialist at the University of Nebraska, discussed the value of implanting beef calves during a recent webinar.
    “In general, implants increase the amount of protein the animal deposits in its carcass,” Erickson explained. “It causes a change or upward shift in the growth curve.”
    “The minute you put an  implant in a beef steer or heifer, it will change how that animal will grow and what it will weigh. An implant will make the calf grow faster, and put on more weight,” he added.
    Implants affect four carcass traits in cattle, Erickson continued.
    “Carcass weight is by far the most important economic driver to the beef cattle system. Even for people who sell cattle on a live basis, carcass weight is still the biggest driver because the packer knows what those carcasses are going to weigh,” he explained. “Carcass weight is the biggest driver of profitability.”
    Other carcass traits affected are yield, which is the amount of red meat yielded on a carcass basis and determined on a scoring system of yield grade 1 through 5. Quality grade is the amount of marbling in the meat and is scored prime, choice or select.
    Maturity is also important, but Erickson said most cattle are sold at “A” maturity.
Increasing efficiency
    Erickson referred to a Texas Tech database of accumulated implant versus non-implant trials. The database contains records of how many animals were in each trial, weights at various stages of growth, when they were implanted, what type of implant, length of implant, days on feed and carcass data.
    From these studies, Erickson said, “Cattle that are implanted gain more and convert more efficiently.”
    One study at West Texas A&M compared carcasses of implanted versus non-implanted cattle.
    “This research indicated there is clearly a relationship showing as cattle get fatter, the number that will grade choice increases,” he explained. “When they are put into a feedlot and the grain diet increases, they get fatter increasing the marbling and the number that will grade choice.”
    Erickson referred to another study that indicated that as the percentage of fat in cattle increases, the quality grade increases. This study showed the cattle needed 28.6 percent fat to grade choice.
    “If you have cattle that are leaner, they can still grade choice if they have the genetics to do that,” he noted.
    Some ranchers are afraid to implant their calves because they don’t want to hurt their quality grade, Erickson said. However, a study was done that showed implanted steers that were fed 14 days longer and heifers fed seven days longer were able to acquire the same amount of body fat as non-implanted calves, which could allow more to develop the marbling to grade choice.
    Erickson shared an example of 100 steers that were implanted compared with 100 steers that were not implanted to show if it is profitable to implant.
    He determined that by implanting steers, they gained an additional 80 pounds each over the non-implanted steers, which yields 8,000 pounds more beef to sell. If they are sold at $1.25 per hundredweight, that amounts to $10,000 in income.
    Comparatively, if 15 less head don’t grade choice because they were implanted, and they have an 800-pound carcass, at a $22 per hundredweight spread between choice and select, this would amount to $2,640.
    Erickson also figured in $800 for the implants and labor for 100 head of steers. In the end, Erickson determined he made $3,440 on the non-implanted steers, considering the implant and labor savings and the additional 15 that graded choice, versus $7,336 on the implanted steers.
    “Implanting is certainly economical, and it’s economical because of the extra weight you are selling,” he explained. “I have never seen the choice select spread large enough to justify not implanting.”
Implant strategy
    Ranchers should consider their end goal when determining how aggressive their implant program should be.
    Implants vary depending upon age of cattle, length of time the implant will last, what the cattle will be used for and gender. What is important to remember, according to Erickson, is it is best to start with a weaker implant and build up to a stronger implant.
    “Never give them a weak implant at the end of the feeding period,” he said. “You should always build on implant strength. Give the weakest implants first and end with the strongest.”
    “It is also important to consider your marketing goals,” he continued. “If you want 90 percent of your cattle to grade choice, consider a less aggressive implant strategy. I would argue that selling the most pounds is the most profitable, and if that is your goal, be more aggressive. Implant a strong terminal implant towards the end.”
    For more information, Galen Erickson can be reached at 402-472-6402 or at Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

Implant safety demonstrated
    Implants are placed in the middle part of the ear, which is the first part discarded at slaughter, University of Nebraska Extension Beef Specialist Galen Erickson said.
    “FDA says implants are safe,” he explained. “We produce more estrogen and testosterone in our own bodies than what would ever be present in meat.”
    In fact, FDA says, “A man’s body produces 15,000 times the estradiol in a day than he would get from a pound of meat from treated cattle, while a woman produces several million times that. Similar situations apply to testosterone and progesterone.”
    Erickson cautioned producers to make sure implants are placed just under the skin in the middle third of the ear, where they are approved to be the most effective. Avoid putting the implant near an eartag or into cartilage.
    “It is important to make sure all the pellets get underneath the skin. Don’t be too harsh when releasing the implant gun, so it doesn’t crush any of the pellets,” he said. “How well cattle are implanted will influence how much implant is released and how well it works.”
    Cattle should not be implanted if their ears are wet and dirty from rainfall. Needle sanitation is important. If the ears are wet and dirty, and the needle is contaminated between animals, it can create abscesses. The animal’s body will attack the abscess, wall it off and prevent the implant from releasing properly, he explained.

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