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Increased profits: Implanting nursing calves can add dollars to cattle

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

As ranchers deal with lower cattle prices and higher input costs, they have the potential of making an additional $30 to $50 a head at weaning by implanting their calves.

According to University of Nebraska Extension Cow/Calf Specialist Karla Jenkins, recent research has shown that, of all the factors that impact a weaned calf’s value, growth implants were not one of them.

Value-based research

This scientific research, published in 2015, in The Professional Animal Scientist studied the effect of implanting nursing calves and later selling them through the video auction.

“Multiple regression statistical modeling was used to account for many of the factors that impact calf price to determine if implanting calves affected calf price,” Jenkins explained.

The study showed no correlation between price and whether or not the calf was implanted. Only minor differences in price were noted between implanted and non-implanted calves.

What did stand out in this study was the difference in lot size of implanted versus non-implanted calves. The number of implanted calves was significantly less, suggesting only 20 percent of ranchers implant their calves before weaning.

Garnered profits

Producers are leaving money on the table. Jenkins said research indicates implanted calves will have a four to six percent increase in gain from birth to weaning.

“Realistically, implanting could translate to 15 to 30 more pounds to sell at weaning,” she said.

That could translate to an extra $30 to $50 a head. For 100 head of calves, that is $3,000 to $5,000.

For the cost of the implant, which Jenkins estimates at $1.50 a head for Ralgro, that’s a decent return on investment, she continued. Currently, the only growth implants approved and available for nursing calves are Ralgro and Synovex C.

Responsible use

If producers choose to implant their calves, Jenkins urges them to do it responsibly.

“Proper implanting strategies should not negatively impact the next segment of the industry,” she said.

Many times, Jenkins says producers tell her that if they sell their calves to a private stocker-feeder, the feeder doesn’t want implanted calves because they won’t get any good out of the implants they put in.

Jenkins says that is simply not true.

“If the proper implant strategy is used, and the proper implant for nursing calves is used, the stocker and finishing businesses should benefit from it,” she said.


Calves should be at least 30 days of age before they are implanted. The payout for a nursing calf implant is 70 to 100 days. Steers and non-breeding heifers can also receive growth implants.

“There are no negative impacts on heifers if they are implanted between two months and weaning only one time,” Jenkins said.

“It is probably a good idea to not implant those heifers or bulls that will be selected for breeding,” she added.

Responsible implanting starts with using the weakest implants first. Stronger, more aggressive implants can be given during later segments of the business.

“Pharmaceutical companies have changed a lot in recent years, and new implants have been developed,” Jenkins explained. “There is not much new in nursing calves as far as implants, but there are some new options for stocker and finishing cattle.”


When placing an implant in the calf’s ear, Jenkins says the producer should place their fingers under the ear and barely pick up the skin with the tip of the needle. Then, they should slide the needle in, make a little pocket and dispense the implant into the ear.

The implant should be placed in the middle one-third of the ear between the veins that run on either side of it. Producers should avoid putting the implant too close to the ear canal or too close to the tip of the ear, because the implant won’t payout correctly.

“If the middle of the ear has been damaged, place the implant in tip of the ear,” she said. “If the tip of the ear has been damaged, place the implant in the outer half of the remaining ear.”

Producers also need to avoid hitting a vein, or crushing the implant. “Nursing calves have very tender ears, so use care when implanting them so the implant doesn’t go through the ear,” she cautioned. “It is also important to use a needle that is sharp and has been disinfected after each calf. Infected implants don’t payout.”

When disinfecting the needle between calves, it is important that the implant inside the needle doesn’t get wet, so don’t dip the needle in disinfectant. Jenkins recommends using a shallow pan containing a good livestock disinfectant and a clean sponge. The needle can be wiped off after each use with the sponge, she said.

With only 20 to 30 percent of nursing calves receiving implants, Jenkins said producers are missing one of the best return on investment strategies available.

“If calves are not implanted, then a marketing strategy needs to be implemented to get a premium for leaving weight on the table,” she said.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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